WASHINGTON (RNN) - For the third time in seven years, the Supreme Court has limited the kinds of punishments minors can receive after they're convicted of a crime.
Monday, the court ruled that a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole for a minor is a form of cruel and unusual punishment - even in cases involving homicide.
In 2005, the Court said a death sentence was too harsh for young offenders. In 2010, it barred courts from sentencing minors to life in prison without the possibility of parole in non-homicide cases.
"Because juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform, we explained, 'They are less deserving of the most severe punishments,'" Justice Elena Kagen wrote in the court's majority opinion released Monday, quoting the 2010 case.
The court concluded the age of an offender and his or her ability to change must be considered when determining sentencing.
Judges can still sentence minors in homicide cases to life in prison without parole, but the mandatory sentencing guidelines must go.
"These laws prohibit a sentencing authority from assessing whether the law's harshest term of imprisonment proportionally punishes a juvenile offender," Kagen wrote.
The challenge came from two 14-year-olds in Arkansas and Alabama who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for homicide.
In November 1999, 14-year-old Kuntrell Jackson decided with a pair of friends to rob a video store in Arkansas. On the way, he learned one of the boys had a shotgun with him. While they went into the store, Jackson stayed outside.
He came in a short while later to find one of his accomplices with a gun in the face of Laurie Troup, the store's clerk. When she threatened to call police, his accomplice shot and killed her.
The boys left empty handed.
Jackson was tried as an adult and convicted of capital felony murder and aggravated robbery.
In 2003, 14-year-old Evan Miller was arrested and eventually convicted of murder in the course of arson. Miller, a friend, and neighbor Cole Cannon smoked marijuana and played drinking games until Cannon passed out.
Miller stole Cannon's wallet, splitting the money between himself and his friend. When he went to return the wallet, Cannon grabbed him by the neck. His friend used a baseball bat to hit Cannon over the head before Miller beat him with the bat.
The two left Cannon's trailer, but returned later and started two fires. Cannon died of his injuries and smoke inhalation.
Both Jackson and Miller will undergo resentencing hearings that take into account their age. They may still be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Arkansas and Alabama are among 29 jurisdictions (28 states and the federal government) which have mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder in an adult court.
Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.