|Evan Miller. Image courtesy The North Star News.|
The Opinion of the Court, written by Justice Kagan, relies on prior case law - particularly Roper v. Simmons and Graham v. Florida - to delineate the differences between juveniles and adults, particularly their less-formed character and vulnerability to outside influences. While Graham addressed crimes other than murder, its statements about children's development was not crime-specific. Reliance on the discretion of prosecutors, wrote Justice Kagan, is not enough, as many states have mandatory sentencing schemes that require life without parole.
I would like to draw your attention to two important points regarding the Court's decision, which work at cross purposes. On one hand, much of the Graham v. Florida discussion draws a comparison between life without parole and the death penalty. This is a powerful hook that could serve, sometime in the future, as an attempt to abolish life without parole, after we have abolished the death penalty. On the other hand, the case relies heavily on the differentiation between children and adults, which might hinder a delegitimization of life without parole for adults.