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Juvenile Justice gained its inception into the Criminal Justice System in 1899 and since then, it continuously changes it rules and regulations Hess, Orthmann, Wright, 2010. During early stages of the Juvenile Justice System, courts held children accountable for criminal behavior in the same way as adults; meaning children fell under the same types of punishments, which included death. In today's society, we have become more empathetic and compassionate when dealing with juvenile offenders. These changes reflect societal morals and needs at the time in which the changes occur. The continued growth and development in the Juvenile Justice System leads the way in reform, thus allowing the Juvenile Justice System to become more lenient and continue two operating methods, Rehabilitation Model and a Restorative Justice Model (Hess, Orthmann, & Wright, 2010). Although these changes continue to improve, juveniles, even now, run the risk of prosecution as an adult; therefore, adult sentencing guidelines apply to juvenile offenders.
The criminal justice system is under constant scrutiny when sentencing juveniles under adult sentencing guidelines. There are continuous debates' regarding three important matters: (1) should juveniles be subject to the death penalty, (2) should juveniles receive life without parole for non-homicide offenses, and (3) should juveniles receive mandatory life without parole. The United States Supreme Court has addressed the matters over the last decade. In 2005, the decision in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, abolished the death penalty for juveniles. In 2010, Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. ___, said, "juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide offenses" (Hess, Orthmann, & Wright, 2010). Just recently, in 2012, the United States Supreme Court reviewed Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___, and addressed mandatory life without parole sentences in order to decide if it violates Eight Amendment rights when sentencing juveniles in criminal court. Based on societal norms, the majority of American citizens would agree with the United States Supreme Court's decision; therefore, those responsible for sentencing should have the ability to consider mitigating and aggravating circumstances (Miller v. Alabama, 2012).
Most of us are aware juveniles faced the death penalty for centuries, prior to the Roper v. Simmons decision. The first recorded execution in the United States took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Thomas Gaurner, 17, charged with twelve counts of "buggery", also known as bestiality, was convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging in 1642 (Colonial Crimes and Punishments, 2003). Scott Allen Hain, 17, charged with two counts of First Degree Murder, convicted, sentenced to death, and executed in 2003; became the last individual executed after conviction as a juvenile (HAIN v. STATE, 1996). Between these two cases and over the course of 370 years, approximately 365 individuals executed after conviction as a juvenile. Extraordinarily, upon the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, after a brief suspension in 1972, only 22 individuals were executed in a 29-year period (Death Penalty Information Center, 2012). These facts express society's uncertainty regarding the sentencing of juveniles to death; ultimately, making the death penalty an ineffective deterrent for juveniles. The decision by the United States Supreme Court, Roper v. Simmons, in 2005 just reinforced society's opinions concerning death sentences, and made it easier for judges and juries during the sentencing phase. The decision to eliminate the death penalty for juveniles commuted 72 individuals from execution.
The sole principle of the Juvenile Justice System is to grant an offender with the opportunity for rehabilitation, avoiding the stigma, labeling, and the relinquishing of certain constitutional. On the other hand, the Juvenile Justice System also has the capability of transferring a juvenile offender to criminal court depending on the offender's age, competence, and crime committed. Due to Roper v. Simmons, the justice system and the United States Supreme Court needed to address and review Life without Parole sentences given to juveniles convicted in criminal court.
In 2010, the United States Supreme Court reviewed Graham v. Florida, a case involving a 16 year old who committed armed burglary and another crime and made a plea agreement. Once Graham pled, the judge sentenced him to probation. Graham ended up violating his probation terms by committing another burglary, giving the court the ability to revoke his probation, find him guilty in criminal court, and sentence him to Life in Prison without Parole (GRAHAM v . FLORIDA , 2010). After reviewing the case, the United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, acknowledging juveniles sentenced to Life without Parole is unconstitutional for non-homicidal offenses (GRAHAM v . FLORIDA , 2010). According to the case document, there were 129 individuals sentenced to Life without Parole for non-homicidal crimes, at the time the case was under review (GRAHAM v . FLORIDA , 2010). This decision paved the way for further interests regarding Life without Parole sentences involving homicide offenses.
The latest United States Supreme Court decision focused its attention toward Mandatory Life without Parole sentences for juveniles convicted of homicidal offenses. While the court reviewed the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles to Mandatory Life without Parole, approximately 2400 individuals could potentially petition the courts for a resentencing hearing if found to be unconstitutional (Kelly, 2010). The court examined two cases, Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs; both Miller and Jackson argued Mandatory Life without Parole sentences for juvenile offenders tried in criminal court violate both their Eight Amendment rights and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Both cases involved 14-year-old boys who were convicted of murder and sentence to Life without Parole based on state sentencing laws.
In Jackson v. Hobbs, Jackson went with two other boys with the intent to commit robbery; on the way to the store, he learned that one boy had a shotgun. When the boys arrived at the location, Jackson remained outside during the majority of the crime. He then decided to go inside and while inside the other boy shot and killed the store clerk; "Jackson was found guilty of capital felony murder and aggravated robbery", and according to Arkansas' state statutes, anyone convicted of such a crime will receive a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole (Miller v. Alabama, 2012).
In Miller v. Alabama, after a night of consuming alcohol and using drugs, Miller and a friend decided to commit burglary, and during the course of the burglary, the victim assaulted Miller. Miller and friend fought back, injuring the victim and knocking him unconscious. Miller and friend left the trailer and returned in order to get rid of the evidence by setting fire to the trailer. After the victims autopsy, the pathologist concluded the victim had died from smoke inhalation caused by the fire. Miller was found guilty of Murder in the Course of Arson and according to Alabama state statues, a crime of this nature will receive a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The court relied on Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Kennedy v. Louisiana, in order to come up with a finding. In Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407, the court concluded that the culpability of a class of offenders and the severity of punishment need to fit not only the crime but acknowledge how dangerous the offender is to society and if the offender has the propensity to change. In making their decision, the court examined research suggesting juveniles' cognitive development and culpability differentiate between adults and juveniles. Research also suggests that juveniles do not fully develop in maturity until about 25 years of age; therefore suggesting juveniles are more apt to change. After analyzing precedent cases and research, the United States Supreme Court concluded holding a juvenile to mandated life sentences without the possibility of parole is in violation of their Eight Amendment right and ruling it unconstitutional. On June 25, 2012, United States Supreme Court Justice Kagan announced the opinion of the court:
The two 14-year-old offenders in these cases were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In neither case did the sentencing authority have any discretion to impose a different punishment. State law mandated that each juvenile die in prison even if a judge or jury would have thought that his youth and its attendant characteristics, along with the nature of his crime, made a lesser sentence (for example, life with the possibility of parole) more appropriate. Such a scheme prevents those meting out punishment from considering a juvenile's "lessened culpability" and greater "capacity for change" Graham v. Florida, 560 U. S. ___,___ (2010) (slip op., at 17, 23), and runs afoul of our cases' requirement of individualized sentencing for defendants facing the most serious penalties. We therefore hold that mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishments" (Miller v. Alabama, 2012).
Overall, the United States Supreme Court in the last decade have addressed societies concerns regarding juveniles convicted as an adult and who become subject to adult punishments. However, let us not forget that when juveniles enter into the Juvenile Justice System they are afforded various opportunities to change. Often times juveniles commit crimes which if committed as an adult would land one in jail. It is when juveniles are transfer to criminal court, tried as an adult for a serious crime, and then exploited through the media does society pay attention. Then when the verdict is read and sentencing handed down society becomes sympathetic and empathizes with the juvenile. The individuals who have followed the trial will be either for the sentence or against it, it just truly depends on the individual; at the end of the day, we as a society and as a community have let down our youth. We need to address their issues at a young age so we do not have to deal with them in criminal court.