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Two cases may change the way teens are punished

Publication Date: 
November 08, 2009
Source: - Justice
Bill Mears

Lecturer Thomas Goldstein talked to CNN's Bill Mears about the Supreme Court's hearing on whether the Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" should be applied in cases where juveniles are tried as a adults. CNN reports:

Sixty miles and the twin tragedies of young lives lost to violence link this industrial hub to the tough streets of North Philadelphia.

Here, a grieving mother uses the memory of her murdered daughter to fight on behalf of victim rights. In his West Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, a paroled teenage killer uses his second chance to mentor at-risk youth. In these separate cases, both the criminals and their victims were juveniles.

Their stories provide the backdrop for an unrelated pair of upcoming Supreme Court appeals over whether juvenile offenders who commit violent felonies deserve tough prison sentences -- especially life without parole.

On Monday the justices will examine whether the Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" should be applied in such cases, and whether young minds, because of their age, have less culpability and greater potential to be reformed.

"These two cases are going to tell us a lot about how far the Supreme Court -- led by Justice [Anthony] Kennedy -- is willing to go in limiting a state's ability to impose incredibly tough sentences on either the young, or in some cases, the mentally retarded," said Thomas Goldstein, co-founder of Scotusblog and a leading Washington attorney. "How much is the Supreme Court willing to intervene here?"