Graham v. Florida Case Brief

Facts of the case

When Terrence Graham was 16 years old he was convicted of armed burglary and attempted armed robbery. He served a 12 month sentence and was released. Six months later Mr. Graham was tried and convicted by a Florida state court of armed home robbery and sentenced to life in prison without parole. On appeal, he argued that the imposition of a life sentence without parole on a juvenile, on its face, violated the Eighth Amendment and moreover constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and thus violated the Eighth Amendment. The District Court of Appeal of Florida disagreed. It held that Mr. Graham’s sentence neither was a facial violation of the Eighth Amendment nor constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

Why is the case important?

Graham (D), a 17 years old was arrested for a home invasion and attempted robbery while he was on probation for attempted robbery. He was sentenced to life imprison without the possibility of parole after he was found guilty.


Is a sentence of life imprisonment without parole meted out on a minor for a non-homicidal offense constitutional?


(Kennedy, J.) Yes. A sentence of life imprisonment without parole, meted out on a minor for a non-homicidal offense is unconstitutional. The Court consider firstly, the objective indicia of society’s standard expressed in legislative enactment and state practice and also determines whether there is a national agreement against the current sentencing norm when adopting a new categorical rule for an entire class of criminal defendants. A determination based upon precedents and its understanding of the Eighth Amendment’s text, history and meaning is made by the court. In this particular case, a life imprisonment sentence without the possibility of parole for juveniles in non-homicidal cases is a disproportionate sentence and it is therefore unconstitutional because life sentence without parole are similar to death sentences.


The U.S. Supreme Court held that U.S. Const. amend. VIII prohibited the imposition of a life-without-parole sentence on the juvenile offender who committed a nonhomicide crime and, while the defendant need not be guaranteed eventual release from the life sentence, he must have some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of the life term. The practice of sentencing a juvenile who did not commit a homicide offense to life without parole was exceedingly rare and a national community consensus developed against it, and none of the recognized goals of penal sanctions, i.e., retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation, provided an adequate justification for the sentence. Further, it could not be conclusively determined at the time of sentencing that the juvenile defendant would be a danger to society for the rest of his life, and a sentence of life without parole improperly denied the juvenile offender a chance to demonstrate growth, maturity, and rehabilitation.

  • Advocates: Bryan S. Gowdy for the petitioner Petitioner Scott D Makar Solicitor General of Florida, for the respondent
  • Petitioner: Terrance Jamar Graham
  • Respondent: Florida
  • DECIDED BY:Roberts Court
  • Location: –
Citation: 560 US 48 (2010)
Granted: May 4, 2009
Argued: Nov 9, 2009
Decided: May 17, 2010
Graham v. Florida Case Brief