A Meaningful Opportunity
Q: My parents were addicted to crack cocaine, and their drug use persisted in my early years. I was diagnosed with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder in elementary school. I began drinking alcohol and using tobacco at age 9 and had smoked marijuana by age 13. When I was 16, in another state, my friends and I attempted to commit armed robbery.
Some time later, a court there found that I had violated the terms of my probation by possessing a firearm, committing more crimes and associating with persons engaged in criminal activity. That court revoked my probation and held a sentencing hearing. Under state law, the minimum sentence I could receive (absent a downward departure by the judge) was five years’ imprisonment. A pre-sentence report prepared by the the state Department of Corrections recommended that I receive an even lower sentence – at most, four years’ imprisonment.
The judge sentenced me to life in prison. Because that state has abolished its parole system, the life sentence leaves me with no possibility of release except executive clemency.
A: For a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life in prison without parole for a nonhomicide crime is considered to be cruel-and-unusual punishment, forbidden by the Constitution. Although surely you ought to be separated from society for some time in order to prevent an escalating pattern of criminal conduct, the law says that it does not follow that you will be a risk to society for the rest of your life.
Even if the State’s judgment that you are incorrigible is later corroborated by prison misbehavior or failure to mature, the law calls the sentence disproportionate because that judgment has been made at the outset.
But remember: the state is not required to guarantee eventual freedom to you. All the State must do is give you some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. If, in fact, you turn out to be irredeemable, the Eighth Amendment does not foreclose the possibility of keeping you behind bars for life. It merely forbid a state from making the judgment that you never will be fit to reenter society at the outset.
By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial
The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.
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