Teens Sentenced to Life: Cruel and Unusual?

High court will address sentences for kid convicts who didn't kill
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 8, 2009 11:05 AM CST
Terrance Graham was implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17, and given a life sentence without parole by a judge who told him he threw his life away. Graham, now 22, is jailed in Florida.   (Graham Family)
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(Newser) – Joe Sullivan was sent away for life for raping an elderly woman and judged incorrigible though he was only 13. Terrance Graham, implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17, was given a life sentence by a judge who told the teenager he had thrown his life away. The teenagers didn't kill anyone, but effectively were sentenced to die in prison—a rare sentence whose constitutionality the Supreme Court will review tomorrow.

Just over 100 inmates are serving life sentences for crimes less serious than killing, according to data compiled by opponents of the sentences. Graham, now 22, and Sullivan, now 33, are in Florida prisons, which hold more than 70% of applicable juvenile defendants. Beyond the infrequency of such punishment, lawyers for Graham and Sullivan argue that it is a bad idea to render a final judgment about people so young. "They are unfinished products, works-in-progress," says Sullivan's lawyer.