Attorneys General Respond to Juvenile Life Without Parole Ban

Weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court says juvenile murderers cannot automatically be sent to prison for life without the chance at parole, attorneys general, soon to be joined by courts, are laying down what may be influential alternative sentences. The Supreme Court’s Miller v. Alabama decision in June 2012 invalidates mandatory sentencing laws in 28 states and federal court that send juveniles convicted of murder straight to life without parole. The court said juveniles are less mature, therefore less culpable, and entitled to present mitigating factors to a sentencing judge. In Florida, where Miller may affect more than 200 people, Attorney General Pam Bondi acknowledges that some inmates are entitled to relief, but in an early case, her office argues that a replacement sentence is already set. Down in the Florida panhandle, a Bay County jury in 2009 found Jose Gonzalez guilty of murdering a man the year before during a robbery, when the defendant was under 18.

In the Wake of High Court Ruling, A Reprieve for Juvenile Lifers?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision banning mandatory life without parole for juvenile criminals gave inmates like Christine Lockheart a glimmer of hope. In response to the Court’s ruling, the Iowa Court of Appeals earlier this month overturned Lockheart’s mandatory life sentence for a murder committed when she was 17 and ordered a judge to hold a new sentencing hearing. But less than a week later, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad commuted the sentences of all state prisoners serving mandatory life terms for crimes committed as juveniles, and instead gave them life with the possibility of parole after 60 years. Lockheart’s lawyer says he plans to challenge Branstad’s order in court, arguing that it violates the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama. That ruling said that sentencing judges should consider the individual circumstances of crimes committed by juveniles, including “how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”

Lockheart’s case is among the first of what criminal justice experts say will be numerous and lengthy legal battles as courts and state legislatures across the country determine how to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling — and what to do with the estimated more than 2,000 prisoners currently serving mandatory life sentences for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.

U.S. Supreme Court Questions If Juvenile Killers Should be Given Second Chance

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today in the cases of two offenders, sentenced at a young age to die in prison, and may choose to further limit such sentences for minors. Kuntrell Jackson of Arkansas and Evan Miller of Alabama were both 14 years old when they were convicted of a homicide, and both were sentenced to life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP). For more on the background of their cases, click here. A juvenile’s “deficits in maturity and judgment and decision-making are not crime specific,” said Bryan Stevenson, who represented both offenders. “All children are encumbered by the same barriers.” Stevenson argued that this was the inevitable conclusion to be drawn from the court’s other two recent cases on juvenile sentencing, Roper v Simmons and Graham v Florida.

The High Court Should Give Juveniles the Chance to Prove They Have Changed

I suppose it was difficult to imagine Louis Perez changing course. He was only 14 years old when I met him in a probation camp, and yet, he seemed entrenched in the deepest, lethal absence of hope. Unable at that young age to transform his pain of abuse, abandonment and torture, he seemed set on a path doomed to transmit his pain forever. Now, almost 20 years later, after considerable prison time and having been stuck in a desperate cycle of gang violence and drugs, Louis runs things for me at Homeboy Industries, the nation’s largest gang rehab and re-entry program. It shouldn’t surprise us that children and teenagers aren’t the same people once they become adults.

Life Without Parole for Juveniles: A Brief Look at the Issues

Tuesday the Supreme Court will take up the issue of life sentences without parole (LWOP) for juveniles convicted of murder. In 2010, the nation’s high court ruled juvenile LWOP sentences were unconstitutional in non-homicide crimes. Now, advocates are hopeful the court will extend the same protection to all juveniles, regardless of the offense. Pointing to research indicating that brains continue to develop into the early 20s, some groups, including the American Bar Association, argue juveniles are uniquely suited to rehabilitation and that a life sentence without the possibility of parole is a violation of the Eighth and 14th Amendments’ prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. Juvenile LWOP sentences are, in fact, very rare, especially for 14-year-olds, the age of both juveniles sentenced in the two cases before the court.

The Humane Options For a Teen Killer in Ohio

I have known hundreds of murderers, and befriended many of them. Most were teens or young adults when they committed their crimes. Some killed several people, some killed random victims, and some were mentally ill. Others killed family members or robbery victims. Some of them have been released from prison, usually after 20 or more years. None that I have known have killed anyone else.

Advocates Hopeful, Want Supreme Court to Reject Life Without Parole for Juveniles

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in the cases of two 14-year-olds sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison, many advocates and attorneys predict a majority of the justices will decide that life sentences for juveniles without the possibility of parole amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Children are “categorically different” from adults, says Andrea Dennis, associate professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, and she wants to see the Court acknowledge that. “At a minimum,” she said, “I hope the court would reject mandatory juvenile LWOP [life without parole] sentences for all homicide crimes and require juries be allowed to consider the defendant’s youth and other factors as mitigation.”

In both cases, Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama, the sentences were mandatory regardless of the defendant’s age or circumstances and the judges had no discretion in sentencing. In Jackson, a 14-year-old was convicted as an accomplice to the murder of a store clerk. He did not have a gun or pull the trigger.

Juvenile Life Without Parole At Issue in Case Before U.S. Supreme Court

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases that could determine whether life sentences without parole for juvenile killers is unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. Attorneys for the two 14-year-olds involved in the cases will argue forensic evidence shows adolescent brains are not fully developed and that teenagers consequently take too many risks, according to The Los Angeles Times. “Adolescents, because of their immaturity, should not be deemed as culpable as adults,” Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg, who spearheaded the research, said. “But they also are not innocent children whose crimes should be excused.” The high court abolished the death penalty for juveniles in 2005 and ruled in 2010 that life sentences without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional except in cases of homicide.

California’s ‘Second Chance’ Bill Offers Hope for LWOP Sentenced Youth

A new proposal in California may provide a second chance for the roughly 227 inmates serving the sentence of life without parole for crimes committed before their 18th birthday. Under California’s Senate Bill 9, inmates sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) for crimes committed as a juvenile have the option to submit a petition for consideration of a new sentence after serving 15 years. If approved by the review court an LWOP sentence could be reduced to a stint of 25 years to life, a prison term that comes with the possibility of parole. “The neuroscience is clear – brain maturation continues well through adolescence and thus impulse control, planning, and critical thinking skills are not yet fully developed,” state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), a child psychologist and author of the bill, said through his office. “SB 9 reflects that science and provides the opportunity for compassion and rehabilitation that we should exercise with minors.