Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida

Brief Filed:  7/09
Court:  Supreme Court of the United States
Year of Decision:  2010

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 154KB)

Issue

Whether the fundamental principles in the U.S. Supreme Court 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons that declared the death penalty unconstitutional for juveniles should also be applied to sentences of life without the possibility of parole for those who committed crimes as juveniles

Index Topic

Juvenile Sentencing

Facts

The two cases accepted for review involve juvenile offenders (one 13 and one 17 years old) who claim their life prison sentences without opportunity for parole for rape and robbery respectively constitute cruel and unusual punishment. At issue in these cases is whether the fundamental principles in the U.S. Supreme Court 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons that declared the death penalty unconstitutional for juveniles should also be applied to sentences of life without the possibility of parole for those who committed crimes as juveniles. APA filed an amicus curiae brief in Roper.

APA’s Position

APA’s brief filing is in support of the petitioners (Sullivan and Graham). The general structure of the brief is around three areas of attributes noted by the court in Roper v. Simmons that demonstrate juveniles’ diminished culpability: 1) immaturity, that juveniles have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility which can result in ill-considered actions and decisions; 2) vulnerability, that juveniles are more susceptible to negative influences and peer pressure; and 3) changeability, that the character of juveniles is not as well-formed as that of an adult thereby giving juveniles greater potential for rehabilitation. In summary, the brief presents research that is relevant to determining that given juveniles' diminished culpability and enhanced prospects for rehabilitation, a sentence of death in prison is inconsistent with principles of proportionality in criminal punishment.

Results

The Supreme Court ruled that individuals who were under age 18 when they committed crimes other than homicide cannot be punished with life in prison without parole. Pointing to developments in psychological science, the court asserted that juveniles are less culpable than adults because of their immaturity, vulnerability to external influences and unformed characters. The court also found that the justifications for giving life sentences to juveniles are weaker because of young people’s better prospects for rehabilitation, inability to foresee consequences and other factors. The decision cited the amicus brief submitted by APA, along with the American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers and Mental Health America.