Juvenile Punishment

Juvenile Court

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot give juvenile offenders life without parole as a mandatory sentence. The 5-4 decision in Miller v. Alabama raised some hard questions. Many states now have to both address past sentences under mandatory schemes and come up with a new rule for future sentences.

Outside the court, in the real world, this decision presents for many a difficult moment on an agonizing issue. Should kids be held responsible for their actions? Are they old enough to know better?


There are plenty of sides to the story too: 

  • Some judges feel that juvenile murderers are different from others sentenced to life terms because they are unformed children at the time of the killing. In the same way that we treat children differently in many other areas because they are still developing, he believes there should be some chance for rehabilitation allowed in every juvenile case. He represents the view of many criminal law professionals who seek consistency with other areas of law: He seeks mercy.
  • In contrast, Some criminal defense attorneys, believes that some juveniles convicted of murder deserve life without parole. An example: In 1990, a 16-year-old named David Biro killed his pregnant sister, Nancy Bishop Langert, and her husband, Richard Langert, in their townhouse in Winnetka, Illinois. He broke into her loved ones' home only to kill them; he took nothing. In advocating on this issue, she has stood with those who love someone who was killed by a juvenile -- a group that bears the pain of a thousand social failures. This group seeks justice.


And now that the Supreme Court has forced the hand, they have decided for us.  So now, the important questions are not the ones behind us, but the ones in front: Who gets to decide on releasing these convicts, and when?