Graham v. Florida: Summary & Decision

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  • 0:03 What Is Justice?
  • 0:52 Case Brief and Decision
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn what the Graham v. Florida Supreme Court case is about. Review a summary of the facts of the case, and then examine the decision and its significance.

What Is Justice?

If you look up the word 'justice' in the dictionary, you will see that it is based upon fairness and impartiality. However, when discussing justice and how it should be meaded out, you might hear phrases like ' an eye for an eye,' which is still practiced under Sharia law, or 'the punishment must fit the crime,' which reflects the common understanding of how the U.S. criminal justice system should work. However, like many things, justice can be easier said than done, and even after a final sentence has been rendered, many injured parties do not feel as though the wrong-doer was adequately punished. Most wrong-doers, however, feel as though their punishment is not fair and too harsh.

In this lesson, we're going to review the case facts and decision in Graham v. Florida (2010), a Supreme Court case that addressed the issue of the punishment fitting the crime.

Case Brief and Decision

Terence Graham was convicted of armed burglary and attempted armed robbery at the age of 16, in the State of Florida. He served a one-year sentence for his crimes and then, in 2003, was then released on parole, which is a court-supervised release from prison.

Six months later, at the age of 17, Graham was convicted of home invasion and attempted robbery and was sentenced to life in prison. Graham appealed his sentence, on the grounds that his Eighth Amendment right was violated. The Eighth Amendment states that cruel and unusual punishments shall not be inflicted, Graham argued that since he was given a lifetime prison sentence with the chance for parole for committing a non-homicidal crime as a minor under the age of 18, and not as an adult, his sentence was unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

After losing his appeals in the state court system of Florida, Graham made a final appeal to the federal United States Supreme Court, who heard oral arguments in 2009 and issued their decision in 2010. A majority of the Court stated that, indeed, it was cruel and unusual punishment for a juvenile offender to be given a lifetime sentence for a non-homicidal crime.

The Supreme Court found that Graham's punishment, as a violation of his Eighth Amendment right of our society's standards in the way minors are treated as a whole. Moreover, the punishment did not follow those given in similar cases and was therefore, not only unusual but ''grossly disproportionate.'' The result of this decision was that neither state nor federal courts can sentence juvenile offenders to life imprisonment for committing non-homicidal crimes.

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