OPINION: Tampa court should prevent minors from serving life without parole

To uphold previous Supreme Court rulings and continue to rehabilitate juvenile offenders, prosecutors should not send Kyle Moran back to prison. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/Richard Theis/EyeEm/Getty

After serving 25 years of a supposed life sentence on charges of burglary, robbery and murder, Kyle Moran was released in 2019 following the 2012 Supreme Court case Miller v. Alabama, which found it unconstitutional to sentence a minor to life without parole. 

Moran’s case is now under review two years after his release, since Tampa prosecutors argued he didn’t serve the minimum 40-year sentence after entering a Tampa residence with the intent to rob, but instead shot and killed the homeowner. 

Since Moran was convicted as a minor at 16 years old, his case should be treated as such. Moran’s prosecutors need to uphold Miller v. Alabama by not sending Moran back to prison and ensuring juveniles can benefit from proper rehabilitation. 

Juvenile detention is not just to punish young criminals, but to also rehabilitate them to become contributing members of society, according to the Child Crime Prevention and Safety Center, an organization built to help juvenile offenders. 

“Juvenile court is not intended to be punitive but instead is meant to rehabilitate minors and return them to their parents so that they can correct previous behaviors and reintegrate into society,” the organization’s website said. 

To uphold the integrity of this sentiment, Tampa prosecutors must allow Moran to remain free, since he has proven that he’s rehabilitated himself into society. 

Since his release two years ago, Moran has maintained a job, finished his transitional living program, earned educational certificates and joined a church, all of which show the court he has established himself as a productive member of society.

By keeping Moran out of prison, Tampa will also be upholding the Supreme Court’s ruling against life sentences for minors.

Sentencing a minor to life in prison violated the constitutional law against cruel and unusual punishment, even if the crime committed was murder or homicide, according to Miller v. Alabama. 

“Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features – among them, immaturity, impetuosity and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” Justice Elena Kagan said in her 2012 majority opinion. 

Kagan is right in her assessment of juveniles. Those under 18 have underdeveloped brains, since the mind is not fully developed until the mid 20s, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. Teenagers don’t have the cognitive ability to weigh the consequences of their actions.

Teenagers process information with the emotional part of the brain called the amygdala, while adult brains process information in the prefrontal cortex, which allows for more rational decisions, according to the medical center. Minors shouldn’t be sentenced to life in prison for actions committed before the brain is fully developed.

Recently, however, the Supreme Court ruled against this opinion, upholding the life sentence of a man who was charged with murder at only 15 years old. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote the majority opinion, said there are many minors who would’ve been sentenced to life in prison if they were 18 or older. 

This, frankly, isn’t a strong argument against the dissenting opinion, which references the previous ruling made by Kagan. It’s not enough to say teenagers should be eligible for life without parole because those defendants would have “otherwise received life without parole sentences.”  

The brain of a minor is not developed enough to weigh possible consequences in a rational way, and instead they often act on emotion. A teenager shouldn’t be able to be sentenced to life in prison if they wouldn’t make the same decision as an adult. 

Tampa prosecutors should rule in favor of Moran to uphold previous Supreme Court cases and continue to rehabilitate juvenile offenders after they’ve served their sentences. It’s important to show young potential offenders that punishment is not the only goal of the law but also to assist them in bettering themselves and their communities.