15 to Life

PBS Premiere: Aug. 4, 2014Check the broadcast schedule »

Three Supreme Court Cases That Have Shaped Juvenile Justice

Roper v. Simmons (2005)

In the 2005 Roper v. Simmons case, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for a youth under 18 years old at the time of his or her crime to receive a death penalty sentence. This reversed the 1989 Stanford v. Kentucky ruling, which allowed youth who were at least 16 years or older at the time of their crimes to receive death penalty sentences.

Graham v. Florida (2010)

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Graham v. Florida that sentencing a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole for a non-homicidal crime is in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The ruling requires that states give juveniles a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation."

In the United States, 37 states and the District of Columbia still allow a juvenile to be sentenced to life for committing a non-homicidal crime. A law passed by the Florida Senate in 2014 states that a juvenile convicted of murder may only be sentenced to life in prison after a mandatory hearing at which his or her age and circumstances are considered. The law also provides the opportunity for judicial hearings to review the sentences of offenders serving sentences for juvenile offenses.

Miller v. Alabama (2012)

The 2012 Miller v. Alabama ruling made it unconstitutional to sentence someone who was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime to mandatory life without parole. The ruling requires a judge to take into consideration the age of the offender before sentencing him or her to life without parole.


» American Psychological Association. "Roper v. Simmons."

» The Florida Senate. "CS/HB 7035 — Juvenile Sentencing."

» Menzel, Margie. "Florida Supreme Court Ponders New Juvenile Sentencing Law." The News Service of Florida, July 21, 2014.

» Savage, David G. "Supreme Court Rules Mandatory Juvenile Life Without Parole Cruel and Unusual." Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2012.

» Stout, David. "Supreme Court Bars Death Penalty for Juvenile Killers." The New York Times, March 1, 2005.

» Supreme Court of the United States. Terrance Jamar Graham, Petitioner v. Florida.