Criminal Law: Miller vs. Alabama

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Miller v. Alabama
By Melissa Nester
Criminal Law

This assignment will show how in the case of Miller v. Alabama cruel and unusual punishment has

been applied to the juvenile offenders who commit criminal acts but do not have the mental capacity of

an adult who knows what they are doing. Juvenile offenders were being sentenced to life in prison

without the possibility of parole until Miller fought to have this sentenced changed.
Evan Miller, 14 years old was convicted of aggravated murder and was to serve life in prison without

the possibility of parole for beating his neighbor and then setting his trailer on fire which caused the

man to die. The Alabama court system found him guilty of murder in the course of arson and

sentenced in regular court, not juvenile, to the mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of

parole.

Miller appealed his convictions stating that it was a violation of his amendment rights. The first

amendment right being violated was the Eighth Amendment states that cruel and unusual punishments

shall not be inflicted upon anyone. And the second Amendment right being violated was the

Fourteenth. The Fourteenth Amendment states that nor shall any state deprive any person of life,

liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal

protection of the law. He then used the examples of the Supreme Court cases Roper v. Simmons and

Graham v. Florida. In these cases it was said that a minor cannot be sentenced to death and that a

minor cannot be imprisoned for life for a non homicidal crime, as evidence that their conviction

contravenes nationally held standards of decency.

This then causes arguments from the state of Alabama stating that these two cases are totally different

and there are no similarities that can be compared. The state, states that national standards of decency

do support the sentencing of a minor in such a manner if the crime is of extreme circumstances as this

one is. The Supreme Court now has an issue at hand as to where the line needs to be drawn for these

cases involving juvenile offenders.

With support from the American Psychological Association and others, the sentencing of life without

parole is considered unjust because the mental capacity of an adolescent is unstable. The neurological

system of a juvenile is much less culpable than that of an adult. The APA states that the adolescent is

more likely to engage in high risk situations without really knowing what they are doing. They are also

more vulnerable as well. The APA also holds true to the fact that a juvenile's impulse control does not

balance out with the communication part of the brain where judgment in concerned, therefore does not

allow control over their behavior. Their balance is thrown off.

The state continues to hold their grounds saying that a 14 year old is as culpable as that of a 15, 16,

and 17 year old all of which can be sentenced to a life term. Alabama also states that there is no

research stating that a 14 year old has a lesser capacity for exercising judgment in comparison to an

older adolescent.

Juvenile Court judges argue that sentencing a youth to life without parole might not be the best

thing to do. While their mind capacity is not at the state of an adult, who's to say that a period of

incarceration might not rehabilitate the youth and change their views and their behaviors around

because of the experience they had behind bars. What's to say that a juvenile might not learn from the

mistakes made while on the streets? Can a juvenile be rehabilitated in prison? This is a question being

tossed around and that the state of Alabama is not willing to hear. Alabama feels as though the juvenile

even at 14 should be held responsible for his actions and held...
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