Article Title

Awesome Punishments


In 1972, Justice Brennan noted that “[d]eath is truly an awesome punishment.”[1] But this was no compliment; rather, it was an indictment. And although it took nearly 200 years for the Supreme Court to place any serious constraint on imposing this awesome punishment, the Court has since carved out many restrictions. In this process, an animating rationale has been that the worst punishment available should be doled out in only exceptional circumstances and only after overcoming exceptional procedural hurdles. Recently, the Court has used this—seemingly narrow—principle and layered it onto juvenile-sentencing schemes. To start, the Court barred juvenile capital punishment entirely, rendering “life without parole” the de facto highest juvenile punishment available. The Court then began carving out the same restrictions on juvenile-life-without-parole-sentencing schemes as it did with adult capital punishment-sentencing schemes. This move, however, is quite recent. And as a result, the Court is not finished harmonizing the two lines of jurisprudence. But taking the Court at its word—that a juvenile-life-without-parole sentence is equally awesome as an adult-capital punishment sentence—this Comment frames what additional restrictions we should expect.

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