Seven years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that offenders younger than 18 couldn't be sentenced to death, arguing that juveniles are generally less culpable than adults because they are less mature, more impulsive and more susceptible to peer pressure. By the same unassailable logic, the court should hold that sentencing young murderers to life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment.
Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson were both 14 when they committed their crimes. Miller and a 16-year-old friend beat a neighbor and set fire to his house in Alabama, leading to the neighbor's death by smoke inhalation. Jackson and two friends tried to rob a video store in Arkansas, and a store clerk was shot to death. Even though he didn't pull the trigger, Jackson was convicted of felony murder. Both young men were sentenced to life without parole, a sentence that can be imposed on 14-year-olds in 38 states, including California, and under federal law.
The court should use these cases to declare that no one younger than 18 should be sentenced to life in prison without parole. That would be consistent not only with its 2005 ruling outlawing the death penalty for juveniles but also with a 2010 decision that minors convicted of crimes other than murder couldn't be sentenced to life without parole. In that ruling, JusticeAnthony M. Kennedy's opinion noted that 18 is "the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood."