Akin Adepoju


This article begins with a discussion of the Supreme Court’s decision to abolish the death penalty as applied to individuals convicted of crimes they committed before they turned 18 and proceeds with a detailed exposition of worldwide standards of juvenile sentencing. Part I of this note briefly discusses the history and purposes of the juvenile justice system in the United States. Further, there is a general discussion on the constitutionality of life without parole sentences, which provides an overview of the inconsistencies between Federal and State Courts’ approaches when sentencing juveniles to life without parole. Part II analyzes the international law on the rights of juveniles by using several landmark documents and treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of Children. This leads to a survey of juvenile justice systems around the world, including case law and reform instituted as a result of the international conventions explicitly banning juvenile LWOP sentences. This discussion recognizes the importance of the world’s view on the issue of juvenile LWOP and how such human rights principles should serve as persuasive authority to America. Part II concludes by using a step-by-step approach to analyze and explain how juvenile LWOP sentences in America violate customary international law. Part III asserts and explains why juvenile LWOP sentences in violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. This section includes a detailed analysis of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roper and addresses the Court’s recognition of international standards on human rights issues. Part IV reviews the policy behind punishment, society’s interest in punishment, and how that relates to juveniles. The analysis of the Roper decision and some common sense ideas lead to the conclusion that juvenile LWOP sentences are excessive and ineffective deterrent for juveniles. Further, this notes takes a detailed approach examining and concluding that such sentences violate the principle of rehabilitation, impose excessive retribution, and violate constitutional principles prohibiting excessive punishment. Part V advocates the position that reform is necessary to the juvenile justice system insofar as juvenile LWOP sentences must be abolished. It proposes ideas as to how this reform may come about – mostly through the judicial and legislative branch. Simply leaving the reform up to the state or national legislature is not acceptable because state and federal judges are authorized and compelled to act in a manner consistent with human rights standard. The article concludes by recognizing that the Supreme Court must eventually resolve the inconsistency among the state courts and this resolution must take into consideration the unique nature of the global concurrence on the matter as the Court did in Roper. The Court is likely to hold that juvenile LWOP is unconstitutional because it is cruel and unusual punishment and it violates treaty obligations and/or customary international law.



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