Supreme Court Upholds 241-Year Prison Sentence For Man Convicted At 16

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A man serving a life sentence in prison said his punishment is "cruel and unusual" since it was made when he was 16. The Supreme Court won't hear his case.

The American justice system is supposed to issue out fair sentences, including taking into consideration the mindset and mental capacity of those who are found guilty. Yet, the Supreme Court rejected those ideals in refusing to hear an appeal for a crime a man committed when he was a child.

Bobby Bostic, 39, was sentenced in 1997 to 241 years in prison for armed robberies he committed with an 18-year-old friend. Although both he and his accomplice did aim and shoot their guns at their victims, no one died as a result.

Bostic was offered a plea deal, which he rejected, that would have sentenced him to 30 years behind bars. He pleaded not guilty and ended up with the extreme life sentence instead.

Bostic said he believes his case is an example of cruel and unusual punishment — a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. And indeed, the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that life sentences for teenagers (even as old as 16) fit under that category.

Yet, the state of Missouri argued differently, suggesting that because Bostic was charged for multiple crimes —18 in total — that added up to his 241-year sentence, it didn’t violate the Court’s ruling that teens ordered to serve life sentences were cruel and unusual.

The Supreme Court bought the state's argument, refusing this week to hear the appeal made by Bostic.

There’s no doubt that Bostic likely deserved to serve a significant amount of time behind bars — that’s not in question here. Rather, we must ask ourselves what kind of “just” and “equitable” society are we really living in when we say that children who make mistakes like these are never given the chance to reform their ways?

Judges are rightfully punished for decisions that result in physical acts of cruel and unusual punishment, but they should also be restrained from casting decisions that do the same while sentencing criminals, especially children, to unreasonable timeframes.

Even Judge Evelyn Baker, who issued the sentence to Bostic, later said she did so in error, writing earlier this year, “Imposing a life sentence without parole on a child who has not committed murder — whether imposed in a single sentence or multiple sentences, for one crime or many — is wrong.”

The Supreme Court should have heard the case. Doing so would have further cemented the established precedent that it is “cruel and unusual” for a child to receive a life sentence without consideration for parole. Bostic, at the very least, should also have been given an opportunity to plead his case for being released now that he has grown up.

Instead, the Court's decision suggests they’d rather see a man die in jail, for the crimes of his youth, than to make our society more fair and just.

Banner/Thumbnail Credit: REUTERS, Jorge Silva

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