Graham v. Florida

PETITIONER: Terrance Jamar Graham

DOCKET NO.: 08-7412
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: Florida Supreme Court

CITATION: 560 US 48 (2010)
GRANTED: May 04, 2009
ARGUED: Nov 09, 2009
DECIDED: May 17, 2010

Bryan S. Gowdy - for the petitioner
Petitioner Scott D Makar - Solicitor General of Florida, for the respondent

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.


Does the imposition of a life sentence without parole on a juvenile convicted of a non-homicidal offense violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment?"

Media for Graham v. Florida

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 09, 2009 in Graham v. Florida

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 17, 2010 in Graham v. Florida

Anthony M. Kennedy:

And the second case in which I have the opinion for the Court is Graham versus Florida, number 08-7412.

The petitioner Jamar Graham was sentenced by the state of Florida to life without parole for armed burglary with assault or battery, a crime he committed at the age of 16.

The sentence was imposed after Graham was charged with additional serious crimes at the age of 17.

He challenges his sentence under the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishments clause, the Eighth Amendment's prohibition is applicable to the states under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Rejecting Graham's Eighth Amendment challenge the first District Court of Appeal of Florida affirmed the judgment and sentence and we now review that ruling.

The Eighth Amendment forbids Cruel and Unusual Punishments.

The concept of cruelty is not merely descriptive, it necessarily embodies a moral judgment.

To determine whether a punishment is cruel or unusual, the courts must look beyond historical conceptions to the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.

This Court's precedents establish that the Eighth Amendment forbids the imposition of otherwise permissible punishments when they are disproportionate to the offense or to the offender's culpability.

The present case involves an issue the Court is not considered previously, and that is a categorical challenge to a term of years sentence.

Here the sentencing practice itself is in question rather than the application of a particular sentence to a particular defendant, so the appropriate analysis is a categorical one.

Under this approach the Court must determine whether there is a national consensus against the sentencing practice at issue and then it must decide and exercise of its own independent judgment whether the punishment violates the Constitution.

The laws of 37 states as well as the District of Colombia and the federal government permit sentences of life without parole for juvenile non-homicide offender in some circumstances, 13 states do not allow them.

Relying on this metric, the State and its amici who filed supporting briefs for the state, argue that there is no national consensus against the sentencing practice at issue.

However, an examination of actual sentencing practices in jurisdictions where the life without parole for juvenile non-homicide offenders is permitted by statute discloses a consensus against its use.

There are only 129 juvenile non-homicide offenders serving life without parole sentences across the nation.

A significant majority of those, 77 in total, are serving sentences imposed in Florida.

The rest are in prison in just 10 states and the federal system.

Thus only 12 jurisdictions in fact sentence juvenile non-homicide offenders to life without parole and most of those imposed the sentence quite rarely.

Well 26 states as well as the District of Columbia do not impose the sentence at all despite apparent statutory authority.

Although we recognize a consensus against the use of this sentence the task of interpreting the Eighth Amendment remains our responsibility.

Our cases have established that juveniles have lessened the culpability and so are less deserving of the most severe punishment.

It is also well settled that the defendants who do not kill or intend to kill are less deserving of the most severe penalties.

It follows that when compared to an adult murderer a juvenile offender who did not kill or intend to kill has a twice diminished moral culpability.

A life without parole sentence is the second harshest sentence available.

It is especially hard for a juvenile.

The various penalogical justifications for life without parole either are inapplicable or apply with weakened force to juvenile non-homicide offenders.

These offender's diminished moral culpability makes the sentence disproportionate on retributive grounds.

As for deterrence juveniles characteristics make it less likely that they will be deterred by possible punishments than adults are.

Incapacitation is an impermissible rationale to support the sentence of life without parole because it requires a sentence or to make a judgment that juvenile is incorrigible at the outset of the sentencing and as made clear in Roper versus Simmons, the characteristics of juveniles make those judgments questionable.