Court/Judicial body: Supreme Court of the State of Kansas
Opinion No. 106,437
5 June 2015
Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution: Prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments.
Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights, Article 9: Prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments.
K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 22-3717(d)(1)(G): Mandatory lifetime post-release supervision for sexual offenders released from prison.
The appellant pleaded guilty in two unrelated cases – the first to burglary and theft committed just after he turned 18, and in the second, to raping a 13 year old child when he was 17 years old. He was sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment for the burglary, concurrent with 12 months’ imprisonment for theft, and 45 months’ imprisonment for rape. As required under statute for sexual offences, the District Court also sentenced him to mandatory lifetime postrelease supervision by the Department of Corrections once he was released from prison. The Court of Appeal affirmed the District Court’s decision. The present case is an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Issue and resolution:
Constitutionality of mandatory lifetime postrelease supervision for juveniles convicted of sex offences. The Supreme Court reversed the District Court and Court of Appeals’ decisions and held that such sentence categorically constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Court noted that while lifetime postrelease supervision is not as harsh a punishment as imprisonment and is generally aimed at safely integrating a sex offender into society and protecting the public, Kansas’ provisions are more severe than most other states. When applied to a juvenile, mandatory lifetime postrelease supervision is a sentence that restricts the juvenile’s liberty for life without any chance, hope, or legal mechanism of having those restrictions lifted or even reduced. Although mandatory lifetime postrelease supervision is not disproportionate for adult sex offenders, nor is it cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, the Court held that juveniles are subject to a different standard. The US courts have clearly established that “children are constitutionally different from adults for sentencing purposes” – see Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama.
Embodied in the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments is the precept of justice and that punishment for a crime should be proportionate to the offence. As established in other cases, juvenile offenders have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform, therefore they are less deserving of the most severe punishments. Retribution does not justify imposing the most severe penalty on the less culpable juvenile non-homicide offender. Likewise deterrence is not a justification because juveniles are less likely to take a possible punishment into consideration when making decisions based on their immaturity or ill-considered decision making. The Court therefore concluded that juveniles should be subject to a different standard as retribution and deterrence are less compelling in light of a juvenile’s lesser culpability and the lower risk of recidivism.
Link to full judgement:
This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.