SPONSORED:

Supreme Court rejects challenge to juvenile life sentences

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a new challenge to life sentences issued to juveniles.

The court ruled a juvenile offender can be sentenced to life without parole even while not having a separate factual finding that the defendant is incapable of rehabilitation, or what the law refers to as “permanently incorrigible.”

The conservative majority court ruled 6-3 along ideological lines, with Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael Kavanaugh Klobuchar offers tribute to her father, who died Wednesday Conservative justices split in ruling for immigrant fighting deportation Supreme Court weighs whether to limit issuance of exemptions to biofuel blending requirements MORE writing for the majority and the court's three liberals dissenting.

ADVERTISEMENT

The “argument that the sentencer must make a finding of permanent incorrigibility is inconsistent with the Court’s precedents,” Kavanaugh wrote.

The opinion affirms a Mississippi court's sentence for inmate Brett Jones, who received a life sentence without parole for murdering his grandfather with a kitchen knife during a domestic dispute. Jones, who was then 15, later claimed that his sentence ran afoul of constitutional protections.

The case addressed a split in how courts have applied the justices’ prior rulings on the interplay between juvenile life sentences without parole and the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Mississippi has been among a handful of states that allows juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison without parole absent a finding that the defendant is permanently incorrigible, while a half-dozen other states have deemed such penalties unlawful.

Kavanaugh said the ruling does not prevent states from “imposing additional sentencing limits” involving juvenile defendants convicted of murder. States could require “extra factual findings before sentencing,” he said, or even “categorically prohibit” life sentences without parole for all juvenile offenders.

ADVERTISEMENT

“But the U.S. Constitution, as this Court’s precedents have interpreted it, does not demand those particular policy approaches,” he wrote.

In a fiery dissent, Justice Sonia SotomayorSonia Sotomayor Distortions in census numbers give a boost to Team Trump Court watchers buzz about Breyer's possible retirement Sotomayor blasts Kavanaugh's decision on juvenile life sentences MORE accused the conservative majority of distorting the meaning of past Supreme Court rulings that imparted a degree of leniency for juvenile offenders.

“Jones and other juvenile offenders like him seek only the possibility of parole. Not the certainty of release, but the opportunity, at some point in their lives, to show a parole board all they have done to rehabilitate themselves and to ask for a second chance,” wrote Sotomayor, who was joined by Justices Stephen BreyerStephen Breyer Distortions in census numbers give a boost to Team Trump Supreme Court weighs leniency for crack cocaine sentences The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Biden sales pitch heads to Virginia and Louisiana MORE and Elena KaganElena Kagan Distortions in census numbers give a boost to Team Trump Court watchers buzz about Breyer's possible retirement Sotomayor blasts Kavanaugh's decision on juvenile life sentences MORE

“The Eighth Amendment requires that most juvenile offenders be given this small ‘hope for some years of life outside prison walls,’” she said, citing a prior court ruling.