Sunday, 4 January 2015

Juvenile Life Without Parole - Right or Wrong?

Lewis was convicted of Felony murder at 14-years old
he will serve time in Juvenile Detention before being
officially sentenced at age 21 where life without
parole is a very real possibility.

According to the Amnesty International website, there are around 2500 people serving life without parole sentences in the U.S for crimes committed when they were under 18. Furthermore, although other countries, such as Antigua, Cuba and Nigeria, also permit life without parole for juveniles the United States is the only country actively practising it. Despite a U.S Supreme Ruling in 2012 demanding ALL states abolish mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles, only 13 out of 28 states have complied. According to Amnesty International, these states are actively breaking international law and certain standards that are generally accepted worldwide. 

In California, around 237 juveniles are serving life without parole sentences, with some of these being as young as 14 when sentenced. Perhaps more striking is the fact that over half of these juveniles did not commit the actual criminal act themselves. Instead, they either assisted during the commission of the crime or provided support to the actual individual(s). 

In Florida, several individuals who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles are bringing law suits before the Supreme court in a hope of getting their sentences commuted to a lesser term. One of the plaintiffs is Shimeek Gridine, in 2009 a 14-year old Gridine and his 12-year old friend made a bungled attempted to rob a man in Jacksonville, Florida. The victim, somewhat stunned by the robbery attempt ran away from the boys, when Gridine fired a shotgun. The bullet grazed past the man's shoulder and head but thankfully he wasn't seriously injured. Despite hoping for a lenient sentence as a young offender with no past criminal history, he was jailed for 70 years with no chance of parole. In a Supreme Court ruling in 2005, the death penalty for juveniles under the age of 18 was abolished as 'cruel and unusual punishment'. It is this ruling that is being used in many of the Florida lawsuits, Shimeek Gridine's included, on the basis that sentences of 70 years plus violate this ruling. 

So what is your opinion? Do you believe if you are big enough to commit the crime, you are big enough to do the time? Or does sentencing juveniles to life without parole not take into account that these individuals are still maturing, physically, emotionally and mentally? Should a 'child' of 14 be held just as culpable if they commit the same crime as a 30-year old? Or is 14, 15 years of age just too young to assume they cannot be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society?

Shimeek Gridine sentenced to 70 years
without parole at 14-years old.

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