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Terrance Jamar Graham v. Florida

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This case addressed the issue of whether a juvenile offender in a non-homicide crime may be sentenced to life without parole. The petitioner (Terrance Jamar Graham) challenged his sentence under the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause.

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In the Graham case, the court's opinion concerned the legality of imposing a life sentence upon a juvenile offender for a non-homicide crime. The petitioner, Terrance Jamary Graham, challenged his life without parole sentence based on the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause. This clause states prohibits punishment amounting to tortue or barbarity, any cruel and degrading punishment not know to the common law, or any...penalty, confinement or treatment that is so disproportionate to the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community. Wilkerson v. Utah, 99 U.S. 130, 135 (1878).

Facts of the Case

In July 2003, the petitioner and three other school-age youths attempted to rob a barbeque restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida. Graham entered the restaurant wearing a mask with two accomplices. Graham and his accomplice struck the restaurant manager with a metal bar but failed to remove any money from the premises.[1]

Graham was arrested for attempted robbery under Florida law and the prosecutor decided to charge him as an adult. The prosecutor charged Graham with armed burglary with assault or battery, a first-degree felony carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He pled guilty to all counts and was sentenced to concurrent 3-year terms of probation.[2]

Graham was arrested while on parole and subsequently found guilty of the previous armed burglary and a new count of attempted armed robbery charges. The trial court sentenced him to the maximum sentence permitted under the law: life imprisonment for armed burglary and 15 years fro the attempted armed robbery.[3]

U.S. Supreme Court's Holding

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion on behalf of the Court. While quoting the Eighth Amendment, the court was also deferential to the "evolving standards of a decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." Estelle v. Gamble, 4269 U.S. 97, 102 (1976). The Court opined that imprisoning a juvenile offender for life without the possibility of parole violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment. Moreover, the Court holds that its ruling not only comports with national law but also with international standards.[4]

The overall vote was 6-to-3.


  1. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-7412.pdf
  2. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-7412.pdf
  3. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-7412.pdf
  4. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-7412.pdf

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