Regulating the sentencing of young offenders convicted of serious crimes: Case law from South Africa and the United States of America

Zita HansunguleAuthor:  Zita Hansungule
Assistant Project Co-ordinator, Centre for Child Law, University of Pretoria

Is it constitutional to sentence young offenders according to laws providing for mandatory or minimum sentences? This was the central question raised and answered in two important judgments from the highest courts in South Africa and the United States of America.

On 25 June 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the sentencing of youths convicted of murder to mandatory life terms (without the possibility of parole) was in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The court had before it two cases involving men who had been convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole when they were both 14 years old. In both cases the courts sentencing them did not have the discretion in law to impose different punishments, as State law directed they “die in prison”.

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