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Can Juveniles Serve Life in Prison?

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Texas is known for being tough on crime, and that often involves sentencing juvenile offenders as adults. When juveniles are tried as adults, this can sometimes result in them being locked away for a very long time. Even so, sentencing minors to life without parole has been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Graham v. Florida

The case in question was that of Graham v. Florida. In this decision, the Supreme Court faced the legal issue of whether or not it’s cruel and unusual punishment to sentence an offender to life if he had not killed anyone. The defendant Terrance Graham was first arrested at age 16 for robbing a restaurant. He was then charged a few months later for breaking into a residence. He was eventually sentenced to life in prison, and since the state of Florida had abolished parole, this meant that Graham would effectively spend the rest of his life behind bars.

In that landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled that sending the defendant to prison for life without ever giving him the chance to request parole was unconstitutional. In making that decision, the Supreme Court used its previous decision in Roper v. Simmons, a case in which the justices ruled it was unconstitutional to impose capital punishment on offenders who were under the age of 18 when the crime was committed. They also used their holding in Weems v. United States, which claims that the punishment should be in direct proportion to the crime.


As a result of the Supreme Court ruling in 2010, Texas no longer allows life without parole for juvenile offenders who are not convicted of murder. Even so, this sentence was handed down in several cases between 2005 and 2009, and these sentences have not been commuted. In all, there are approximately 20 offenders in the state of Texas who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles and do not have any avenue available for early release.


Parents of juveniles who are charged with a felony naturally have concerns about whether their sons or daughters can receive a life sentence. Although life without parole is not allowed in most juvenile cases, it can still be handed down if an underage defendant is guilty of homicide. The length of a sentence is based on a number of factors, a few of which include:

  • The nature of the crime
  • The juvenile’s past offenses
  • Mitigating circumstances such as maturity level, IQ or mental disability
  • Whether duress or self-defense were involved
  • Age of the offender at the time the crime was committed

For more information about criminal sentencing for minors, speak to attorney Brett Podolsky at 713-227-0087.

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