Romney Avoids Taking a Stand on Supreme Court's Juvenile Sentencing Ruling

Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Mitt Romney today said he favors "swift and severe punishment" for serious crimes, but wouldn't go so far as to say he thought the Supreme Court was wrong to rule that mandated life without parole for minors convicted of homicide was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court handed down the 5-4 ruling on June 25, effectively striking down legislation then in place in 29 states. The majority opinion found that mandated life sentences without parole for juveniles was unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

The decision, which was overshadowed by this past session's rulings on the Affordable Care Act and the constitutionality of Arizona's SB1070, has gone largely unremarked upon by high-profile politicians.

This afternoon in Grand Junction, Colo., a man who said he was the local district attorney described a case in which a 17-year-old man who was convicted of murdering an 11-year-old girl he had sexually abused and the girl's 42-year-old mother was sentenced to life without parole. The prosecutor asked Romney about his thoughts on the Court's ruling in the context of that particular case.

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"This is another issue that a number of people feel - come out on different sides on," Romney said. "I for instance feel, that, and I realize this was not a death penalty case, yours was a life imprisonment case, but I happen to believe that the death penalty tends to prevent some of the most heinous crimes [loud applause]. And I also believe obviously that the prison terms that are of the nature you described can also prevent some of the most heinous crimes from occurring."

Romney stopped short of saying the court made the wrong decision, but did point to precedent that such legislation is typically not federally mandated.

"This is a decision which is normally made state by state and I believe in this case the Supreme Court was looking at the age of the offender," he said. "I can tell you I'm someone who comes down on the side of swift and severe punishment for those who commit these serious crimes."