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Federal appeals court upholds life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder
Federal appeals court upholds life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder
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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Wednesday upheld a ruling that juveniles convicted of murder may be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole [opinion, PDF]. Kenneth Loggins was convicted of brutally murdering a hitchhiker in 1994, when he was 17 years old, and was originally sentenced to death. However, in 2006 his sentence was lessened to life imprisonment without parole, after the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled in Roper v. Simmons that juveniles convicted of murder could not receive the death penalty [JURIST report]. Loggins appealed the lesser sentence, arguing that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole is cruel and unusual punishment [Cornell LII backgrounder] and violates the Eighth Amendment [text]. However, the court disagreed:

As required by Alabama law, at his resentencing Loggins was mandatorily sentenced to life without parole the same as if it had been the maximum and only sentence prescribed for him and his crime from the beginning. The issue, then, is whether it is unconstitutional to sentence a defendant who committed a murder while he was a juvenile to a mandatory sentence of life without parole. Loggins claims that it is, but he has not cited a single decision of any federal court that even comes close to holding that…Given the absence of any support for Loggins’ claims about the mandatory nature of the life without parole sentence imposed on him and given the presence of Supreme Court decisions strongly indicating that his claims have no merit, he has failed to carry his burden of establishing that no fairminded jurist could agree with the Alabama courts’ rejection of those claims.

The appellate judges said that, despite the Roper decision, a juvenile may still be convicted of a “capital offense” and given the strictest sentence allowed under state law, as long as it is not the death penalty.

Other states also permit sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment without parole. Last November, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website] against Michigan government officials, claiming that state’s juvenile sentencing laws allowing life imprisonment without parole were unconstitutional. According to the ACLU, the US is the only country to sentence children to life in prison without parole. In May 2010, the US Supreme Court held [JURIST report] in Graham v. Florida [Cornell LII backgrounder] that the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits the imprisonment of a juvenile for life without the possibility of parole as punishment for the juvenile’s commission of a non-homicide offense.