Victory: No More Mandatory Life Sentences For Children In US

Christi Cheramie

Christi Cheramie was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole at the age of 16 in 1994.

It’s not a total ban on juvenile life without parole, but at least now courts considering the crimes of juvenile offenders will have options other than a mandated life without parole sentence. So it’s a welcome step forward.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that laws mandating life without parole for juvenile offenders, with no other options, are unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual punishment”.  In other words, to be constitutional, a juvenile life without parole scheme needs to have other, lesser, alternatives, so that courts will have the flexibility to consider mitigating factors that are invariably part of a young offender’s background.

While this ruling still allows for the possibility that those under 18 years of age at the time of the crime could be sentenced to life without parole, it is a step in the right direction.

According the Justice Roberts’ dissent, there are over 2,000 juvenile offenders currently serving life without parole who were sentenced under a mandatory scheme (see our infographic). This represents about 80% of the child offenders serving life without parole.