STAFF EDITORIAL: Juveniles should be held to a different standard
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases Monday involving states’ rights to sentence juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole for non-lethal crimes.
The court appears to be split on the issue and is revisiting a 2005 decision that ruled the executions of juveniles convicted of murder to be unconstitutional. Now, the high court is examining the issue of culpability and whether it is unconstitutional to incarcerate people who have not yet fully developed in character.
One of the cases in question involves Joe Harris Sullivan, 34, who was convicted at 13 of sexual battery and sentenced to life without parole.
Proponents of shorter sentences argue that juveniles are inherently more impulsive and less able to understand their crimes, in turn lessening their culpability. They also argue that less culpability should equate to lesser sentences.
Another argument raised involves opening the door to predicting which juveniles fit the profile of being reformable.
Some Texans may find it surprising that their state, along with Colorado, has already rewritten its juvenile sentencing laws. Currently, laws cap the term for criminals younger than 18 at 40 years with a mandatory assessment for potential parole.
It’s interesting to see that Texas, which has a reputation for being quick to execute criminals, recognizes the need for unique treatment of juveniles.
There is something to be said for someone having the chance to be rehabilitated and evolve into a productive member of society. And, as crazy as it may sound, Texas is ahead of the times in this regard.
Maybe what this issue needs is a set of standards for those juveniles who display violent tendencies. While such a provision would do away with the all-or-nothing system some states have in place, it would still allow judges to lock up particularly heinous offenders for the majority of their adult lives.