November 7, 2011 / 5:34 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. top court to decide juveniles' life sentence

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it would decide the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole for murder.

The nation’s high court agreed to hear a pair of Alabama cases and decide whether life imprisonment in such cases violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

The justices agreed to examine a question left open in their ruling last year that declared unconstitutional sentences for juveniles of life in prison without parole for crimes other than murder.

The court in 2005 abolished the death penalty for juveniles. The classification covers all those under age 18.

Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson are serving sentences of life in prison for murders committed when they were 14 years old. They are among the 73 inmates nationally serving such a sentence for murders committed at age 14, their lawyers said. There were no statistics available for the total number of juveniles serving such sentences in the United States for murder.

Nationwide, juvenile sentencing trends in recent years have reflected get-tough efforts by states that have abolished parole and prosecuted juveniles in the regular criminal justice system for especially heinous crimes such as murder.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the two cases early next year, with a decision likely by the end of June.

The Supreme Court cases are Evan Miller v. Alabama, No. 10-9646, and Kuntrell Jackson v. Hobbs, No. 10-9647.

Reporting by James Vicini; Editing by Peter Cooney

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