Tennessee Supreme Court rules life sentences for minors is unconstitutional

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Tennessee Supreme Court rules life sentences for minors is unconstitutional

Misty Severi

November 18, 11:29 PM November 18, 11:45 PM

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A life sentence when the offender is a minor is an unconstitutional violation of the Eighth Amendment, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The court determined that inflicting a mandatory life sentence on a minor constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” even when the crime is homicide.


The court claimed that under the Eighth Amendment, a judge could consider a lesser sentence based on the offender’s age and other factors. Tennessee has the strictest sentencing for minors, and no other state imposes a mandatory sentence of over 50 years for juveniles, according to the court.

“We had this system that was a complete outlier,” Booker’s attorney, Jonathan Harwell said, according to the Tennessean. “The court has held that this is something we as a society don’t condone, something we can’t allow to happen in our name anymore. That means there’s well over 100 people who now have hope of breathing air outside of prison they didn’t have before.”

The ruling was determined in a 3-2 vote, with dissenting Justices Jeffrey Bivins and Roger Page arguing that juvenile sentencing decisions should be made by the state’s legislature and not the court.

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The ruling stems from the life sentence imposed on Tyshon Booker, who was 16 when he participated in aggravated robbery that resulted in someone’s death in Knoxville in 2015. In Booker’s case, because the state’s mandatory law did not allow the sentencing judge to give him a lesser sentence, it was unconstitutional.

Life sentences in Tennessee carry a 60-year sentence with only 51 years of incarceration required. In Booker’s case, the state Supreme Court kept the 60-year sentence but moved up his parole hearing to between 25 and 36 years into his sentence. At that time, the review board can consider Booker’s age and other circumstances at the time of the crime.

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