Life Sentences for Juveniles Draw U.S. Supreme Court Hearing

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether 14-year-olds convicted of taking part in a murder can be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Less than a year and a half after ruling that such sentences are unconstitutional for youths convicted of a crime other than murder, the justices today accepted two inmate appeals that would extend that conclusion to homicide cases, at least for children 14 and under. The disputes will test the reach of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

In one case, the high court will hear an appeal from Evan Miller, who was 14 at the time he killed his neighbor, Cole Cannon, in Lawrence County, Alabama, in 2003.

Prosecutors said Miller and an accomplice robbed and beat Cannon before setting his trailer on fire and killing him in the process.

Miller’s lawyers said in his appeal that he is one of 73 people in 18 states to have received such a sentence for a crime committed at the age of 14 or younger.

The second case concerns Kuntrell Jackson, who was convicted for his role in the 1999 shooting death of a video-store clerk during a robbery in Blytheville, Arkansas.

Jackson, who had turned 14 less than a month earlier, says that he served only as the lookout in the attempted heist and that another boy fired the fatal shot.

In both cases, state courts upheld sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

The cases are Miller v. Alabama, 10-9646, and Jackson v. Hobbs, 10-9647.

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