Monday, May 17, 2010

SCOTUS Rules Life Sentences for Juvenile (Non-Homicide?) Offenders Unconstitutional

The case was Graham v. Florida, the WaPo blurb is here. The ruling was a somewhat fractured 5-4 (Roberts, who would have been the sixth vote, concurred in the judgment with regards to this defendant, but did not agree that there should be a categorical constitutional bar). And meanwhile, Justice Stevens, going out in a hail of glory, let loose with this concurrence:
Society changes. Knowledge accumulates. We learn, sometimes, from our mistakes. Punishments that did not seem cruel and unusual at one time may, in the light of reason and experience, be found cruel and unusual at a later time; unless we are to abandon the moral commitment embodied in the Eighth Amendment , proportionality review must never become effectively obsolete.

While Justice Thomas would apparently not rule out a death sentence for a $50 theft by a 7-year-old, the Court wisely rejects his static approach to the law. Standards of decency have evolved since 1980. They will never stop doing so.

A fitting send-off to a stellar career by Justice Stevens.

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