In Graham and Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court severely limited the imposition of life-without-parole sentences on juveniles. No matter the severity of the crime (or crimes) a juvenile has committed, he cannot be denied any possibility of future release unless he is the rare juvenile homicide offender “who exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible.” The animating principle behind these decisions is that, relative to adults, juveniles possess a “lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility,” tend to be “more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure,” and are “more capable of change.” Social science proves, and the Court recognized, that for almost all children, what presents as incorrigibility is actually a transitory state. Once the juvenile’s brain fully develops, he or she is likely to emerge as a less impulsive, more responsible, more stable person.
There is no coherent limiting principle that would cabin the scope of these holdings to encompass only life-without-parole sentences, imposed for a single offense. Rather, Graham and Miller must apply equally to any term-of-years sentence that denies a juvenile offender the “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”
While a juvenile’s commission of multiple offenses, contemporaneously or apart, may inform Miller’s “irretrievably depraved” inquiry, it is far from dispositive. The commission of multiple offenses in no way forecloses the possibility that the juvenile will develop into a responsible and law-abiding citizen over time. Therefore, he may not be exempted from Graham and Miller’s protections.