Graham v. Florida (2010)

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Graham v. Florida (2010) is a U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court considered whether a minor who committed a non-homicide crime could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In this case, the petitioner–Terrance Graham–was on probation after pleading guilty to crimes committed when he was 16. When he was 17, Graham–along with Meigo Bailey and Kirkland Lawrence–committed a home invasion robbery and attempted a second, during which Bailey was shot. Graham drove to the hospital, left Bailey and Lawrence there, then ignored a police sergeant’s signal to stop. He later crashed into a telephone pole and was apprehended after trying to flee on foot.

The trial court found that Graham had violated his probation by fleeing the police, possessing a firearm, committing a home invasion robbery, and associating with persons engaged in criminal activity. Graham was given the maximum sentence: life imprisonment, which in Florida carried no possibility of parole. Graham challenged this sentence by filing a motion with the trial court, which was denied. The appellate court affirmed, and the Florida Supreme Court denied review. The U.S. Supreme Court then granted certiorari.

The question considered was whether sentencing a minor–who had not committed a homicide–to a life sentence with no possibility of parole violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The Court found that it did, arguing that Graham’s sentence was disproportionate to the crimes he committed. The Court reasoned that sentencing a juvenile to life imprisonment for a non-homicide crime did not serve the purpose of restoring the offender, and that juveniles lacked the maturity to appreciate the risks associated with their actions. Thus, the judgment against Graham was reversed, with the case remanded for further proceedings.

[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]