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Litigation Resources and Brief Bank

This section provides information on U.S. state laws and laws of other nations, international treaties, United Nations resolutions, as well as access to a brief bank and other legal materials that can assist in juvenile justice advocacy. These resources are an important tool to support legal challenges of inhumane sentences both at the trial and appellate levels.

In the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case Roper v. Simmons, Justice Kennedy emphasized the global adherence to the international human rights law and practice as "instructive" in its decision that the juvenile death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment. On May 17, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Graham v. Florida that the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a juvenile for a crime other than murder was prohibited by the Eight Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  Significantly, the Court recognized that the sentence is rejected the world over, as emphasized by amici, and found that international law and practice is relevant to the Eighth Amendment determination of evolving standards of decency.  In 2012 the Supreme Court again ruled on the issues in Miller v. Alabama, where the majority found that mandatory life without parole sentences for those under 18 for any crime is unconstitutional. 

Short of execution, the life without parole sentence is the harshest punishment a court can impose. This sentence is viewed as cruel and inhumane by the global community and considered to be a violation of international human rights standards, including by the treaty bodies governing the treaties in which the United States is a party. The International Convention on the Rights of the Child expressly prohibits life without parole.

International law prescribes that countries promote rehabilitation, treatment, and education over incarceration, and that detention should be used only as a last resort. Sentencing youth to die in prison provides no opportunity for rehabilitation, treatment, or release and violates recognized global standards of juvenile justice. Global practice follows the prohibition of JLWOP sentences. An investigation by the Center for Law and Global Justice confirmed that there are no youths under the age of 18 years serving this type of sentence anywhere in the world except the United States. There are more than 2,570 youths serving life without parole sentences in U.S. state and federal prisons.