Prosecuting of juvenile offenders with maximum sentence such as life-imprisonment without the possibility of parole can be tricky. The complexity consists in the fact that such sentence is likely to violate the Eighth Amendment that prohibits cruel and unusual sentences to young people. There are also other factors such as maturity, capacity to make decisions and perceive consequences as well as the impetuousness of the juvenile offender to the intensity of the crime. In addition, the circumstances, under which the child has been brought up, could limit their culpability to the crime and, therefore, justify a lesser sentence. However, this must be justified through findings in social science and the precedence in rulings that have been delivered by different courts. This paper analyzes a case involving juvenile offenders and the decision to sentence them to life-imprisonment, without possibility of parole.
Key words: juvenile, serious crime, child culpability, Eighth Amendment, robbery with violence
Criminal Law: Case Memo
The case under question involves two juvenile boys who are charged with murder following aggravated robbery in a store. The defendants have a history of criminal activities including car hijacking and shoplifting that form the precedent of their convictions to life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole. The criminal history of the defendant is critical to the delivery of the judgment because it is used by the prosecution to deny the defendants the right to be charged as 14 year olds when they have committed serious offenses such as murder. These facts override the family upbringing of the accused such as a history of abuse by stepfather, drug and alcohol use, among other incidents that might have played a role in the eventual murder of a person.
This study presents issues that help form the case against the accused person. First, there is the family life of the accused person and the role it plays into their behavior as teenagers at 14 years. One of the accused, Miller, has come from foster care following the inability of the mother to take care of him, alcohol abuse and abuse from stepfather. Due to the difficult life as adolescents, they are also engaged in small criminal activities such as shoplifting and car hijacking, which launches them into the full blown criminal activities where they carry guns and use them to murder (DeLisi et al., 2014). Other issues include the Eighth Amendments and the use of life sentence, without possibility of parole for adolescents.
The case under question involves two boys aged 14 years and a store clerk who is shot and killed when she refuses to give all the money and threatens to call the police. The young juveniles are on a criminal spree and have previously been involved in crimes such as shoplifting and car hijacking. The dispute emerges when the victim refuses to give all the money but instead threatens to call the police. These two young people have had a troubled life with their parents and are ready to do anything to get the money including killing a person involved. However, the juvenile law and the Eighth Amendment do not protect them from getting the maximum sentence in a court of law if the prosecution is successful in proving their guilt in the case. The prosecution of the defendants is largely influenced by the historical background of the teenagers and the social science behind the thinking of teenagers when compared to the adults. The argument that children are constitutionally different from adults in their thinking capacity, easy to influence and make decisions were also presented (Kuhns et al., 2014). The other aspect was the entrenchment of patterns of problematic behaviors among only a small percentage of the adolescents.
In this case, the major legal issues are the provisions of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment that ensures no individual is subjected to excessive punishment. At the same time, the scientific and social findings in psychological studies reveal that the child moral culpability is reduced by the fact that their thinking capacity, proclivity for risk and inability to assess possible consequences served to exclude people who are listed as children from life sentences, without possibility of parole. On the other hand, the seriousness of a crime, which involves robbery with violence resulting in a death of a woman, and the fact that there is a history of violent crimes, makes the defendants eligible for maximum punishment. This is clear, according to the existing laws in the state where the crime occurred. Given the findings from social sciences, the characteristics of youth lower the penological justification for maximum sentence to a young person even in the harshest crime. Since the adolescents are immature, reckless, and impetuous, they are likely not to have thought about the consequences of their actions. Those who are against maximum sentence for young people, such as Miller, argue that it misses the point. It is because it misses the chronological age and hall mark features of the child. It also ignores the circumstances such as chaotic upbringing, abuse by members of the family, and also drug and alcohol abuse. If all these factors are considered, no child should get life sentence, without the possibility of a parole.
This case provides a number of reasons in relation to prosecution of adolescents who have committed serious crimes. The first is the circumstances surrounding the life of the adolescents. Research findings have shown that children and adolescents are affected by the situation in their lives. They are also not able to make wise decisions or consider the consequences of their actions. On the other hand, the Eighth Amendment prohibits the prosecution and sentencing of a person in a manner that unfairly subjects them to unmerited treatment in the hands of the law. In meting out the sentence to the juvenile offender, there should be a consideration between death sentence and life imprisonment, without the possibility of a parole (Kuhns et al., 2014). This case presents the contradictory application of the law to juvenile cases and the often misunderstood position of the child in a case that calls for mandatory life imprisonment. Arguably, the sentences given to juveniles with respect to the seriousness of the crime are not oddity in their application. As such, precedence in how a certain section of the law is interpreted and applied can justify the application of such ruling in a different case even when the circumstances are different. The judge in adolescent cases must follow a certain process that takes into account the age and characteristics of the defendant before they are sentenced.
- The findings of the social science research provided grounding for the understanding of the case. For instance, following the ruling of the case, it was evident as has been shown in social science that the inward looking in Eighth Amendment is largely informed by the indicia of the society. This means that the changing perspectives and the popular thinking of the people about juvenile crimes and the suitable sentencing will form a basis of how future cases are handled. Another aspect that has been brought out from the social science is the concept of sentence cruelty and unusual following the mandatory sentencing of the involved party (Shepard, 2012). While this has always been understood as such, the findings from the social research point to the contrary: sentences, which are not cruel and unusual, do not assume these characteristics by virtue of them being mandatory.
- Following the differences in how juvenile cases involving serious crimes are handled, social science in psychology of juvenile minds could be developed to study the mind of a juvenile crime. By understanding the inside thinking of young offenders, it could be possible to introduce statutes and laws that ensure fair judgment and sentencing of those who are found to have committed serious crimes. The social science to be developed should cover areas of Eighth Amendment and highlight how this important part of the constitution could be upheld, without violating the existing criminal laws of the country (Shepard, 2012). For example, through social science research, ways of enforcing mandatory life imprisonment without possibility of parole could be found. Such ways could be supported by the Eighth Amendment rather than opposing this important constitutional provision. The social change in perspectives could also be another step that can be taken to aid in prosecuting juveniles who are caught in serious crimes.