Can a juvenile defendant receive the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole?

Juveniles cannot receive the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons (2005) that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to execute juveniles in part because juveniles are less mature and less able to appreciate the gravity of their actions than adults.

American people. See The Federalist No. 49, p. 314 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961). The document sets forth, and rests upon, innovative principles original to the American experience, such as federalism; a proven balance in political mechanisms through separation of powers; specific guarantees for the accused in criminal cases; and broad provisions to secure individual freedom and preserve human dignity. These doctrines and guarantees are central to the American experience and remain essential to our present-day self-definition and national identity. Not the least of the reasons we honor the Constitution, then, is because we know it to be our own. It does not lessen our fidelity to the Constitution or our pride in its origins to acknowledge that the express affirmation of certain fundamental rights by other nations and peoples simply underscores the centrality of those same rights within our own heritage of freedom.

Justice Antonin Scalia (dissent): The Court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our Nation’s moral standards and in the course of discharging that awesome responsibility purports to take guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislatures. Because I do not believe that the meaning of our Eighth Amendment, any more than the meaning of other provisions of our Constitution, should be determined by the subjective views of five Members of this Court and like minded foreigners, I dissent….

More fundamentally, however, the basic premise of the Court’s argument that American law should conform to the laws of the rest of the world ought to be rejected out of hand. In fact the Court itself does not believe it. In many significant respects the laws of most other countries differ from our law including not only such explicit provisions of our Constitution as the right to jury trial and grand jury indictment, but even many interpretations of the Constitution prescribed by this Court itself. The Court-pronounced exclusionary rule, for example, is distinctively American.

As of this writing, it is uncertain whether juveniles can receive the second toughest criminal sentence life in prison without the possibility of parole. On November 9, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases from Florida Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida that will decide the question.