Life Imprisonment with Possible Parole for Juvenile is Not Cruel and Unusual Punishment

An Ohio Appeals Court, in reviewing a criminal appeal from a conviction, has determined that a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole for an offense committed when the defendant was a juvenile does constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

The case is State v. Bokeno, 2012-Ohio-4218.

The Defendant was convicted on multiple sexual offenses against four minor victims.  At the time of the commission of these acts, the defendant was under the age of 18.  However, he was not indicted until he was over the age of 21.  Because one of the victims was under the age of ten at the time of the rape, the trial court sentenced the defendant to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 20 years.

The defendant argued that his life sentence with the possibility of parole after 20 years is a violation of his due process rights and his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.  He also argued that that he should not be arbitrarily tried and punished as an adult for crimes he committed while under the age of 18.

The court noted that the Ohio Supreme Court has previously addressed some of these issues in State v. Warren, 118 Ohio St.3d 200, 2008-Ohio-2011:

In Warren, the Court determined that a defendant’s due process rights were not violated by the imposition of a mandatory term of life imprisonment for rape of a victim under the age of 13 when the defendant was a juvenile at the time of the offense but was not prosecuted until he had passed the age of 21. 

However, since that decision the United States Supreme Court decided Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. ___, 130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010).  In Graham, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments prohibits the state from sentencing a juvenile to a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a non-homicide offense.  The Graham Court said that if it a state imposes a sentence of life for a non-homicide conviction, the state “must provide [the offender] with some realistic opportunity to obtain release.”  Applying Graham to this case, the court found that the Constitution was not violated because the defendant has the possibility of parole after 20 years.

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