Sunday, August 5, 2012

Life Without Parole for Juveniles: Graham v. Florida (2010)

At the age of 16, Terrance Graham and two friends robbed a barbecue restaurant. During the commission of the crime, one of his friends assaulted the restaurant manager, causing injury but not death. He was charged as an adult in Florida, and he accepted a plea bargain for three years of probation.

While he was on probation, Mr. Graham was arrested again for breaking into a house. He denied involvement in the crime, but he acknowledged he violated the terms of his probation. The prosecutor recommended sentences of 30 years (for the robbery) and 15 years (for the home invasion). The defense attorney argued for 5 years. A presentence investigation report recommended 4 years.

The judge in Florida ignored all of recommendations and sentenced Mr. Graham to life in prison without parole.

Mr. Graham appealed his conviction, arguing that sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without parole violates the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause. His argument was that juvenile's brains and personalities are not fully formed, and they have the ability to change and mature in ways that adults don't. The American Psychological Association weighed in on the U.S. Supreme Court Case, submitting an amicus brief bolstering Mr. Graham's argument.

The Court decided that punishments for crimes should be "graduated and proportional," and they ruled that a sentence of life in prison without parole for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes was, in fact, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. However, they upheld the sentence of life in prison without parole for juveniles involved in homicide crimes as constitutional. Their decision reversed the original court's sentence for Mr. Graham, and he needed to be resentenced.

At the time of his resentencing in 2012, Mr. Graham had been in prison for 8 years. After a three-day sentencing hearing, where the judge heard testimony from experts and prison officials that Mr. Graham had matured significantly in that time, the same judge who originally sentenced him to life without parole resentenced Mr. Graham to 25 years. He will be 42 when he is released.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


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