Juveniles Convicted of Homicides: Will The U.S. Supreme Court Take the Next Logical Step?

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  “Why is life without parole categorically different? How about 50, 60, 70 years?  As close to death as possible? How are we to know where to draw those lines?”  Justice Antonin Scalia was first out of the box to fire questions at defendant’s attorney Bryan Stevenson. However, on the first day of Spring in the city of cherry blossoms, all eyes and ears within the U.S. Supreme Court were focused on Justice Anthony Kennedy. Would he repeat the message of hope for young people when he so eloquently wrote for the majority two years earlier in Graham v. Florida: “Life in prison without the possibility of parole gives no chance for fulfillment outside prison walls, no chance for reconciliation with society, no hope.” (Before Graham, the Court’s decision in Roper v. Simmons had ruled the death penalty for juveniles unconstitutional.)

Relying upon scientific evidence that kids are different from adults because their brains hadn’t fully developed and thus lacked impulse control and judgment, the Graham decision held life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicides to be cruel and unusual punishment, thus unconstitutional.

Bryan Stevenson at TED 2012: Full Spectrum

TED2012 Helps Equal Justice Initiative Founder Raise $1 Million

“All of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone,” said Bryan Stevenson Thursday at the 2012 TED Conference in Long Beach California. Stevenson is an attorney and the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization that litigates on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders and others whose trials are marked by racism and misconduct. Stevenson spoke passionately about how the American justice system is distorted around race and poverty. Our prisons are overflowing and the U.S. is still the only industrialized nation in the world that will sentence juveniles to life in prison. Following his talk, $1 million was raised for a campaign run by Stevenson that ends excessive sentencing of children and stops the practice of putting kids in adult jails and prisons.