A juvenile offender waits for sentencing while a court calculates his life expectancy and determines the point at which his sentence effectively becomes his entire life. This is the scenario posed by recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have struck down life without parole (LWOP) sentences for most juvenile offenders but have left open the possibility of lengthy term-of-years sentences. Consecutive term-of-years sentences may leave many juvenile offenders in prison for the majority of their lives despite the holdings in Miller v. Alabama and Graham v. Florida that juveniles are different and more capable of reform than most adult offenders.
This Note examines the issues created by long term-of-years sentences or “virtual LWOP” after Miller and Graham. Specifically, this Note addresses the (1) unconstitutionality of virtual LWOP sentences under Graham; and (2) inconsistencies created between sentences given to homicide and nonhomicide juvenile offenders after Miller. Ultimately, this Note analyzes statutory responses to juvenile LWOP sentences and proposes that either parole restrictions for juveniles must be removed entirely or comprehensive statutory schemes must be enacted to provide multiple opportunities for release.