Convicted Dunbar Village rapist, Nathan Walker, was resentenced this week to 60 years in prison after the US Supreme Court ruled last year that juveniles cannot be incarcerated for life without the possibility of parole for crimes other than murder. Originally, after trial, Walker was sentenced by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Krista Marx to life in prison. Walker was a juvenile at the time he committed the crime. Walker was just 16 years old when he and a group of nine other assailants gang raped a woman, beat her 12-year-old child, forced the mother and son to engage in incest, and then doused them with cleaning fluids in an attempt to set them on fire.
The US Supreme Court ruled in the case of
Graham v. Florida that sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without any possibility of
parole for a non-homicide offense is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment,
which is prohibited by the United States Constitution.
However, the case of Terrance Jamar Graham, on which the Supreme Court based its ruling, is quite different factually from Nathan Walker’s. Graham was put on probation at the age of 16 for attempted robbery and armed burglary with assault or battery when he and another juvenile went to a barbecue restaurant in Jacksonville with masks, struck the owner in the head with a crow bar, and fled without taking the cash because another employee saw them in the act and began yelling at them.
About six months after being put on probation, Graham was arrested again, this time for armed home invasion robbery. He was charged with forcibly entering into the victim’s home at gunpoint with two accomplices and holding the homeowner in the house while searching for money. On his violation of probation, Graham was sentenced to life in prison.
Because Florida no longer has a parole system in place, a person sentenced to life in prison must serve an actual life sentence. There is no way of obtaining early release. The Supreme Court ruled that sentencing a person under the age of 18 to life in prison without any possibility of parole is too extreme. The US Constitution prohibits any punishment that is “cruel and unusual.” While this term can refer to things such as torture, it is also commonly interpreted by the Court as a sentence that is disproportionate to the crime. The Supreme Court found that punishing a juvenile to life for any crime other than murder or homicide is disproportionate. The idea, according to the Court, is that a person so young should not be written off without at least the possibility that one day in the future, he can be rehabilitated.
The problem, according to Judge Marx, who sentenced Nathan Walker, is Florida doesn’t have a parole system in place. If we did, then Walker could be sentenced to life in prison and a parole board could one day reevaluate him to see if his release is warranted and to see if he is in fact rehabilitated. Because this system does not exist, a Court is then required to predict now how long it will potentially take a juvenile offender to rehabilitate. This system creates too much uncertainty and speculation, especially when you’re dealing with an extremely heinous crime, such as Walker’s. As a result, Judge Marx sentenced walker to 60 year in prison. Of those 60 years, he will likely serve 51 years with credit for good behavior. Since Walker is now 20 years old, this means he won’t be released until age 71. Considering his average life expectancy is 72, this doesn’t leave much hope of rehabilitation. A parole system seems the better device for complying with the Supreme Court’s ruling.