There are many issues involved in the Supreme Court decisions especially with regard to the Constitution. One important assumption is that the court is moving to create a situation where the rights of humans are being protected and arbitrariness being curbed. In the light of the fact that human rights are now a universal concept and is globally acknowledged, the fact that constitutions and laws that abridge the human rights have to go or be amended cannot be argued against. While the constitution may be supreme, the rights of humans take priority, especially in the global context. In such a case the case of Graham vs. Florida can be seen as a landmark judgement so far as the way prisoners have to be treated is concerned.
The problem is more of legal rationality because the laws are rules that a society creates for the guidance of and well being of its citizens. When a conflict occurs, these basic rules, like the constitution, specific laws and procedures are used to resolve the conflict without stepping out of the frame of law. Thus the basics of determining the boundaries of validity, is by applying uniformly the law to all citizens. Thus the legal order of the country is served by multiple institutions like the courts, lawyers, investigators, police, jails, government and the legislature. This setup is essential to create a legal rationality in the actions. (Diesing, 1962) So if an adult is sentenced for life for a crime and it appears valid, must a juvenile or a young person be accorded a different status? There have been a number of issues that was based on individual rights and young offenders before this judgment.
The Issues Before Graham vs. Florida:
The issue of sentencing and cruelty has been discussed much before this case and the Eight Amendment is a result of the finding of the need of preventing the cruelty that may creep in sentences. Basically the problem of sentencing is often controversial. The difference between the philosophy of punishment and its justification: Thus "a justification of state punishment must show not merely that punishment achieves some good, but that it is a proper task of the state to pursue that good by these means." (Ashworth; Wasik, 1998) The eighth amendment seeks to do away with cruelty and sentences for crimes that may themselves be cruel and against the human rights.
Amendments: The Eighth Amendment
The Eighth Amendment prohibits grossly disproportionate sentences of imprisonment. Under its well-settled precedent, this Court considers the sentence's underlying penal purposes and legislative judgments; the harshness of the sentence compared to the gravity of the offense; and a comparison of the sentencing laws and practices of the States and the international community. Thus what constitutes cruelty and what are the boundaries to it are discussed in a number of subsequent cases. The Eighth Amendment says that excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." (Justia.com, 2011)
Thus earlier it was believed to be only for prohibiting torturous punishments as in Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957, 979 (1991) and this clause was applied for the last hundred years in this spirit after the Eighth Amendment's ratification. (Justia.com, 2011) Therefore the issue of cruelty and neglect is applicable in all sentences. The case is about two issues, juveniles, and the case of life sentences that can incarcerate someone for his or her life without parole. The importance is in the reinterpretation of the Eighth amendment.
Review of the Case:
The brief review of the facts of the case is necessary to see the issue as it occurred. The case begins when the sixteen-year-old Terrence Graham was convicted of armed burglary and attempted armed robbery. The sentence was for twelve months and later released. Subsequently he was tried and convicted by a Florida state court for the same armed home robbery and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The issue became controversial with the life sentence without parole on a juvenile. The violation of the Eighth Amendment was cited and the court of appeal at Florida disagreed.
The Supreme Court held that the Eight Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause does not permit a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life in prison without parole for a non-homicidal crime. This is the basis of this discussion. The facts of the case are as follows: The trial judge convicted him on three counts, armed burglary, and attempted robbery with an assault or battery and sentenced him to life in prison. It is against this conviction that in June 2006, an appeal was filed before Florida's First District Court of Appeal. The claim for the appellant was that the life term detention was in violation of the prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment was also against the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights.
Following rejection of the appeals the matter came up before the Supreme Court in the form of a writ of certiorari. The case does closely ally with another case where in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976) U.S. Supreme Court the "Respondent state inmate brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioners, the state corrections department medical director (Gray) and two correctional officials, claiming that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment for inadequate treatment of a back injury assuredly sustained while he was engaged in prison work." (Justia.com, 2011)
The District Court did not grant any relief. The Court of Appeals found insufficiency of the medical treatment "required reinstatement of the complaint." (Justia.com, 2011) In this case the Supreme Court held the important rule that the inaction of prison personnel to a prisoner's serious illness or injury constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The court also held that the actions are done contravening the Eighth Amendment. The case also brought out the ruling that "the question whether respondent has stated a constitutional claim against the other petitioners, the Director of the Department of Corrections and the warden of the prison, was not separately evaluated by the Court of Appeals, and should be considered on remand. Pp. 429 U.S. 101-108." (Justia.com, 2011) Now the courts have not reached this conclusion in a singe appeal but the ruling is the result of concerned judicial activism that began centuries ago with the case of the rights of the minorities.
What is the position of young offenders sentenced by the criminal courts? Must there be strict limits both on the nature of the sentence and its duration? Theories like the desert theory hold that the offender and the offence matters but not the background. Thus a young offender whose failings in life may be due to causes beyond his control for example the home life is punished for the specific offence, of which they stand convicted, but the fact remains that in a sentence if based on the gravity of the offence the differentiating between adult and juvenile offenders may not be actually correct. During the adolescence the offenses are committed which called the youth crime, is taken as a different set of offenses that are categorically set apart from the same crimes by adults. It is argued that in some way these young criminals have to be dealt with by agencies "outside the criminal justice process, by family, schools, or welfare services." (Ashworth; Wasik, 1998)
The Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., was the person instrumental in trying to differentiate the juveniles and using the age to see that they can challenge life-without-parole prison terms, as against the alternative of altogether banning the sentence itself. The issues between the judges seem to be with the age and how the age can be determined which makes a person an actual adult. This issue came up in both the Graham v. Florida (08-7412) and Sullivan v. Florida (08-7621). The appellants were youths aged crimes at age 16 and 13. The arguments advanced for them were that the minor offenders must not be made to suffer life sentences. Or in the alternate forbid life long convictions. These cases looked up the Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. (Denniston, 2009)
Now the ruling has made it mandatory to see that judges take the offender's youth into account while spelling out the sentence in actual term of years, which was naturally within the scope of the constitution. Looking at the Sullivan case, Joe Sullivan, can benefit from a ruling in the case of Terrance Graham can now call for remission of his sentence. What if a juvenile caused death? Was "death was different?" In the case of young persons the current thinking is that it may be so. Juvenile status is now a part of the proportionality review, and any one below the age of 18 is for this purpose a minor. Thus even in serious crimes the punishments may be based not on the crime…