“Some persons will shun crime even if we do nothing to deter them, while others will seek it out even if we do everything to reform them. Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people.” — James Q. Wilson, Harvard Professor and Crime Expert
My youngest sister was the joy of our close family. When a teenager murdered her and her husband in 1990 in suburban Chicago, she was pregnant with their first child.
The continuing debate about sentencing juveniles to life without parole has real-world implications for a 12-year-old boy in Jacksonville, Fla., accused of killing his two-year-old half-brother. The Florida attorney general, Angela Corey (pictured at left) charged Christian Fernandez as an adult in the first-degree murder case. Corey quoted in the Florida Times-Union, said eight years was not enough time to rehabilitate Fernandez. But his adult status leaves Fernandez open to the possibility of a life sentence. The Times-Union story describes how Corey’s staff spent two months examining the 12-year-old before deciding how to charge him. The story also takes a long look at the history of juvenile life without parole sentences.
The Supreme Court of Wisconsin has just ruled that it’s constitutional to sentence juveniles to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for intentional homicide. The defendant in that case, Omer Ninham, was 14 years old when he was charged with killing a 13-year-old boy. The case will very likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court hasn’t yet decided whether sentencing a juvenile to “death in prison” is cruel and unusual punishment. It has, however, indicated that how we sentence juveniles has to be different from how we sentence adults.
Are sentences of life without parole for juveniles a death sentence? David Schmidt thinks so. See the short version just below. For more information on topics on like why a kid convicted of triple murder should still be released by the age of 21 see the full interview at the bottom of this page. Here are the time splits for the important topics Schmidt covers in the longer version below:
Life without parole – 00:33
Judge still could give 150 years – 1:20
Are we tough enough on kids – 1:38
There are dangerous young people – 2:03
Consider the individuals – 2:20
The New Mexico model and a triple murder – 3:00
Life without parole is a death sentence – 5:00
2,500 kids in jail without parole in 27 states – 5:50
Supreme Court acted cowardly – 7:05
Judge’s and prosecutor’s power – 8:00
There are new legal challenges popping up across the country in the wake of the Graham v. Florida Supreme Court decision, which made life without parole sentences for juveniles unconstitutional in cases that don’t involve murder. Unlike appeals filed in Florida and Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing Michigan government officials on behalf of nine convicts who were sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for crimes they committed when they were minors, according to the Jurist. Michigan law requires mandatory life sentences for certain crimes committed by kids who are 14 to 17 years old. The ACLU argues their rights have been violated because they don’t have the chance for parole by demonstrating growth or maturity.
Appeals are starting to roll in on behalf of convicts sentenced as teenagers to life without parole. Some will try to test the intent of the Supreme Court decision from May. There are more than 2,000 juvenile lifers across the nation, and 90 percent were convicted of homicide, so on the surface the high court ruling would not apply to them. But advocates are focused on the majority opinion. which argues adolescent brains are not fully developed and, therefore, they have limited responsibility for their criminal actions. So far, five juvenile lifers convicted in homicide cases have filed appeals in Pennsylania.
The Supreme Court decision to ban life without parole for children in all cases except murder affects 37 states with laws on the books, including Georgia. But it does not appear that any Georgia inmates are candidates for release at this time. The ruling reversed a life without parole sentence for Terrance Graham, a Florida man who was 17 when he committed a home invasion robbery, just six months after another robbery. As the Miami Herald reports, the high court agreed he belongs in prison, but said, “it does not follow that he would be a risk to society for the rest of his life.”
An analysis in the Christian Science Monitor cites studies showing young people are less able to assess risk, control impulses, and process consequences. Justice Kennedy wrote that they are also more capable of change. Cutting off that possibility amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, violating the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment. Seven states already ban life without parole for juveniles. Eleven more statesare considering similar laws.