The Supreme Court has held that life without parole is an unconstitutional sentence for nearly all juvenile defendants—except for a select few that the criminal justice system deems irredeemable. Though this represents a positive development in the Court’s juvenile sentencing jurisprudence, it has left the case law deeply unsettled. For instance, the Court has held that redeemable juveniles are all entitled to a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release,” but it has failed to explicitly define what that constitutional mandate means in practice. On top of that, the Court has concluded that not even expert psychologists can determine at sentencing whether a juvenile is irredeemable. However, lower courts may still sentence certain juvenile homicide defendants to life without parole if they can somehow make that determination.

This Comment addresses questions left unanswered in the wake of the Court’s recent juvenile sentencing cases. Because the Court has held that conclusively determining whether a juvenile defendant is irredeemable at sentencing is a fraught endeavor, and that a meaningful opportunity to obtain release means more than simply a release immediately before a defendant’s specific life expectancy, this Comment argues that the Eighth Amendment provides a constitutional right to a timely parole hearing with the presumption of release for all juvenile defendants. The ultimate focus of this Comment is to address the question that instituting a constitutional right to a parole hearing for juvenile defendants will inevitably pose: When must that parole hearing occur? Drawing on state legislative enactments, available parole data, and the Court’s analysis in its prior decisions, this Comment argues that juvenile defendants have a constitutional right to a parole hearing before the twenty-sixth year of their respective sentences.