Graham v. Florida: Summary & Decision

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.


'The punishment must fit the crime.' This statement reflects the common understanding of how our criminal justice system should work. It also came into question during the Supreme Court case entitled Graham v. Florida.

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 was then released on parole in 2003. Parole is 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. Under the Eighth Amendment, a person has the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. Graham argued that since he was given a lifetime prison sentence for committing a non-homicidal crime as a minor under the age of 18, and not as an adult, that this was unjustifiable 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 in 2009. The next year, in 2010, he won his case. A majority of the Court stated that, indeed, it was cruel and unusual punishment for a minor to be given a lifetime sentence for a non-homicidal crime.

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