Graham v. Florida

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Graham v. Florida
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued November 9, 2009
Decided May 17, 2010
Full case name Terrance Jamar Graham v. Florida
Docket nos. 08-7412
Citations 560 U.S. 48 (more)
Argument Oral argument
Procedural history Writ of certiorari to Florida First District Court of Appeal.
Sentencing an individual to life imprisonment without parole for a non-homicide crime committed before the defendant reached the age of 18 violates the Eighth Amendment.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Kennedy, joined by Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor
Concurrence Roberts
Concurrence Stevens, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor
Dissent Thomas, joined by Scalia; Alito (as to Parts I and III)
Dissent Alito

Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States holding that juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide offenses.[1][2] The court decided whether Roper v. Simmons (2005), which had abolished the death penalty for juvenile offenders, should also apply to sentences of life without the possibility of parole. Currently, according to a May 2010 Catholic News Service article, thirty-seven states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have statutes that allow for a possible sentence of life in prison without parole for non-homicide crimes. However, only some of those jurisdictions actually have persons serving those sentences for non-homicide crimes, and most of those are adults (according to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, there are 129 people currently serving non-parole life sentences for non-homicide crimes which they committed as juveniles, 77 in Florida and the rest scattered among only 10 states).

The case

Terrance Jamar Graham (born January 6, 1987), along with two accomplices, attempted to rob a barbecue restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida in July 2003. Aged 16 at the time, Graham was arrested for the robbery attempt and was charged as an adult for armed burglary with assault and battery, as well as attempted armed robbery, with the first charge being a first degree felony that is punishable by life. He pleaded guilty and his plea was accepted.

Six months later, on December 2, 2003, Graham was arrested again for home invasion robbery. Though Graham denied involvement, he acknowledged that he was in violation of his plea agreement. In 2006, the presiding judge sentenced Graham to life in prison, and because Florida abolished parole, it became a sentence without parole.[3]

Majority opinion

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court:

The Constitution prohibits the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a juvenile offender who did not commit homicide. A State need not guarantee the offender eventual release, but if it imposes a sentence of life it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term. The judgment of the First District Court of Appeal of Florida is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.[3]


The ruling was declared retroactive to cases on collateral review as a "new rule of substantive constitutional law" by the 7th Judicial District Court in Scott County, Iowa, in the case of State v. Jason Means. Means was aged 17 when he was involved in a 1993 kidnapping and homicide. Following a jury trial, Means was convicted of kidnapping and second degree murder. Thereafter, Means was sentenced to life without parole on the kidnapping charge and 90 years consecutive on the second degree murder and other related charges.

Means challenged his life sentence under Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.24(5) with the assistance of attorney Angela Fritz Reyes. On September 30, 2010, the district court issued an opinion declaring Graham retroactive. The court resentenced Means in absentia to life imprisonment and severed the non-parole portion of Iowa law, thereby granting Means the opportunity for parole.[4]

However, in at least two cases, state high courts have ruled that life without parole is still appropriate for homicides, no matter what age the defendant. On December 21, 2010, the Supreme Court of Missouri delivered its opinion in the case of State v. Anthony Andrews, affirming a sentence of life imprisonment without parole in a case in which the defendant, Andrews, was a juvenile convicted of first-degree murder. The Wisconsin Supreme Court on May 20, 2011, ruled similarly in State v. Omer Ninham, in a case where Ninham was convicted as an adult of intentional homicide for a crime committed at the age of 14.

Further developments

In February 2012, Terrance Jamar Graham was resentenced by the original trial judge to a 25 year sentence.[5]

In March 2012, the Court heard arguments in the case of Miller v. Alabama, concerning the constitutionality of mandatory life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders in cases including murder. The Court issued its ruling on June 25, 2012, striking down the mandatory sentences as cruel and unusual punishments in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[6]


  1. Liptak, Adam (May 17, 2010), "Justices Limit Life Sentences for Juveniles", New York Times<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  2. Bravin, Jess (May 18, 2010), "Justices Restrict Life Terms for Youths", Wall Street Journal<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "TERRANCE JAMAR GRAHAM, PETITIONER v. FLORIDA" (PDF). Supreme Court of the United States. May 17, 2010. Retrieved May 20, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "State of Iowa v. Jason Means" (PDF). Iowa District Court, Scott County. September 30, 2010. Retrieved October 26, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value)..
  • Fine, Lauren (2009), "Death Behind Bars: Examining Juvenile Life without parole in Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida", Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy Sidebar, 5: 24–44<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Parker, Alison (2005), The Rest of Their Lives: Life Without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States, New York: Human Rights Watch, ISBN 1-56432-335-8<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.