Court Strikes Down Excessive Sentences for Children


The Nevada Supreme Court unanimously held that it is unconstitutional to sentence a nonhomicide juvenile offender to a term of years that is the functional equivalent of life without the possibility of parole.

Andre Boston was sentenced to 14 life sentences with parole plus a consecutive 92 years in prison for nonhomicide offenses committed when he was 16 years old. The aggregate sentence required him to serve 100 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole, and Mr. Boston argued it violated the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida, which prohibits sentencing a child to die in prison for an offense in which no one is killed.

In a December 31 decision, the Nevada Supreme Court applied Graham to aggregate sentences, like Mr. Boston’s, that are the functional equivalent of life imprisonment without parole. The court rejected the prosecution’s argument that Graham is limited to only a single life without parole sentence for a nonhomicide offense, writing that the State’s interpretation “would undermine the Court’s goal of ‘prohibit[ing] States from making the judgment at the outset that those offenders never will be fit to reenter society.” Prohibiting sentences that are the functional equivalent of life without parole, the court concluded, “best addresses the concerns enunciated by the U.S. Supreme Court and this court regarding the culpability of juvenile offenders and the potential for growth and maturity of these offenders.”

The court held that juvenile nonhomicide offenders must have a meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. In 2015, the Nevada Legislature passed a bill that prohibits sentencing nonhomicide juvenile offenders to life without parole and allowing for parole eligibility after serving 15 years in prison. The bill is retroactive, and the court held that it now entitles Mr. Boston to parole consideration because he has served 27 years.

The Nevada Supreme Court joins the highest courts of California and Florida, as well as other courts, in finding that Graham precludes aggregate sentences that fail to provide a meaningful opportunity for release for children convicted of nonhomicide offenses.