Life sentences for TN juveniles ‘unconstitutional’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) – The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment is unconstitutional as a cruel and unusual punishment.

After Tyshon Booker was sentenced to a mandatory life sentence of 60 years at age 16, Tyshon Booker appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court to challenge the constitutionality of such a conviction, which was made without regard to his youth or other circumstances.

Booker was convicted of first-degree murder and particularly aggravated robbery. At least 51 years of his 60-year sentence had to be served in prison.

The Tennessee Supreme Court granted a review to consider Booker’s challenge.

In its decision, the Court stated that no other state imposes a mandatory prison sentence of more than 50 years for a single juvenile offence. Consideration of a juvenile’s age and other circumstances is necessary, as has been ruled in previous Eighth Amendment cases by the US Supreme Court.

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “No excessive bail shall be required, excessive fines shall not be imposed, or cruel and unusual punishments shall be imposed.”

In a close ruling, Booker’s sentence was not changed, but he was granted a parole hearing after serving between 25 and 36 years in prison. This is more in line with the practice of almost half of the other US states.

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Holly Kirby wrote a unanimous opinion, stressing that Tennessee is the only state where juveniles face a mandatory sentence of more than 50 years for first-degree murder without aggravating circumstances.

“Of all the land,” Kirby wrote, “Tennessee stands alone.”

Judge Jeff Bivins and Chief Justice Roger Page disagreed.

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