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Home Archive Volume 61 Volume 61, Issue 1 COMMENT: Out of the Strike Zone: Why Graham v. Florida Makes It Unconstitutional to Use Juvenile-Age Convictions as Strikes to Mandate Life Without Parole Under § 841(b)(1)(A)
COMMENT: Out of the Strike Zone: Why Graham v. Florida Makes It Unconstitutional to Use Juvenile-Age Convictions as Strikes to Mandate Life Without Parole Under § 841(b)(1)(A)

By Christopher J. Walsh | 61 Am. U. L. Rev. 165 (2011)

Life without parole is an incredibly harsh sentence. Recognizing this fact, the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Graham v. Florida held that life without parole is an unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment for any juvenile convicted of a nonhomicide crime. This Comment takes the rule from Graham v. Florida and applies it to another context: sentencing defendants who have been convicted of drug trafficking in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841.

Under the sentencing scheme of § 841(b)(1)(A), a defendant on his third strike—having two prior “felony drug offense” convictions—must be sentenced to life without parole.

This Comment argues that counting juvenile-age prior convictions as strikes under § 841(b)(1)(A) to trigger mandatory life without parole is unconstitutional. Counting juvenile-age prior convictions as strikes effectively results in what Graham v. Florida forbids: life without parole based on the defendant’s actions as a juvenile.

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