published Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Supreme dictation

With the U.S. Supreme Court again mulling what sentences are appropriate for juveniles who commit murder, it is frustrating that, once again, the Constitution seems to be almost an afterthought to some of the justices.

The high court already has ruled, improperly, that juveniles who commit even the most brutal murders may not be executed. Certainly there is room for debate on what the right sentence is for juvenile murderers, but that is for lawmakers to decide. The Constitution does not prohibit such executions, and it is not for the Supreme Court to impose such a ban based on justices' personal views on crime and punishment.

Now, the court is deciding whether to forbid life sentences without parole for juvenile murderers.

But again, the Constitution offers no such prohibition. The Fifth Amendment states simply that no one may "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law ... ." So clearly a juvenile who is provided due process may be imprisoned, even without a chance of parole.

That doesn't necessarily mean states should or will send especially young killers to prison for life. Different states may take age into account in meting out lesser punishments -- though most states do allow juveniles to be tried as adults.

But that question should remain with elected lawmakers of a given state, who are accountable to their constituents. It is not a matter for judicial dictation.

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