The Long Wait: With Little Hope Left of Parole, Inmates Look to the Courts for Release

On a summer day in 1970, two Chicago Police officers assigned to the “walk and talk” team, meant to improve relations between police and the community at the Cabrini-Green public housing projects, were walking across a field when gunfire erupted. Surrounded by the high-rise buildings, snipers fired on the men, killing them both.

Notion that “Kids are Different” Takes Hold in Youth Justice Policy Reform

2005 – Roper v. Simmons: U.S. Supreme court rules that it is cruel and unusual punishment to impose the death penalty on people for crimes committed when they were younger than 18. “[F]rom a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor’s character deficiencies will be reformed.” Roper v. Simmons, 543 U. S. 551, 570 (2005). 

2010 – Graham v. Florida: U.S. Supreme Court rules that life-without-parole sentences imposed on children for non-homicide offenses are unconstitutional. “‘(J)uvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders.’ “ Graham v, Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011, 2026 (2010), quoting Roper, 543 U.S., at 573.“Juveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of ‘irretrievably depraved character’ than are the actions of adults. Id. 

2011 — J.D.B. v. North Carolina: U.S. Supreme Court establishes that youth status matters in areas of youth justice beyond the context of harsh sentencing policies when it imposed the requirement that law enforcement officials must consider the age of a suspect in determining whether Miranda warnings should be issued.

Nebraska Pardons Board Cancels Hearings for LWOP Prisoners Convicted as Juveniles

The Nebraska Pardons Board cancelled this week’s hearings following the granting of an injunction request by more than a dozen prisoners, who said that the meetings, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama, may result in them receiving prison sentences of at least 50 years. The Omaha World Herald reports that Douglas County Judge Thomas Otepka granted the request late last Friday, with the Pardons Board subsequently postponing several hearings scheduled for Monday and Wednesday. “Defendants are enjoined from commencing the commutation hearings scheduled for December 3 and 5, 2012, until such time as the Nebraska Supreme Court and the Nebraska Legislature addresses the constitutional mandates of Miller v. Alabama,” Otepka wrote. Two weeks earlier, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning – a member of the state’s Pardons Board – said that he would likely give the prisoners, all currently serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles, minimum 50-year sentences in hearings originally scheduled for this week. “We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision,” Bruning said.

Federal, State Courts may Clash on 350 Juvenile Lifers

A Michigan state court case says some 350 people given mandatory no-parole sentences for murders committed as juveniles must serve their full sentences. But in the coming days, a federal court is expected to opine on a similar question. A federal court in Michigan will soon rule on the constitutionality of automatic, no-appeal life sentences given to 13 people over the last few decades. The offenders in Hill et. al.

Kentucky to Decide on Miranda Rights in Schools

I did  “something stupid,” said Kentucky high school student N.C., admitting to his assistant principal and the school’s sheriff’s deputy that he gave two of his prescription pain pills to another student.  He was not read his rights, and the officer subsequently charged him with illegally dispensing a controlled substance.  N.C.’s attorney is arguing that the student should have been informed of his rights to leave, stay quiet or call an attorney. N.C. was “in custody” when he sat in an office with Nelson County High School Assistant Principal Mike Glass and School Resource Officer Deputy Steve Campbell, talking about his empty prescription medicine bottle, argued Robert Strong, assistant public advocate.  So the adults erred by failing the familiar Miranda warning: “You have the right to remain silent …”

“Given that the officer testified that the assistant principal was aware that N.C. had given some pills away before they interrogated him, the interrogation was a criminal investigation,” Strong wrote in his brief to the Kentucky Supreme Court. N.C. was not read his rights, so, Strong argued, the student’s statements to the two men should have been inadmissible in the criminal case against him. N.C., whose age is not given, was sentenced to 45 days in adult jail, on hold pending the outcome of his appeal.

Wyoming Inches toward Reform

Wyoming looks set to require more deliberative sentencing hearings for juveniles convicted of murder, taking into account factors such as the defendant’s mental health. Like most under-18 defendants in the state, however, they will continue to go through adult court, advocates predict. Wyatt Bear Cloud’s sentence to life in prison for a 2008 murder committed in Sheridan when he was 16 wasn’t fair, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 1, citing an earlier ruling that demands thoughtful sentencing hearings for youth on murder convictions. They told the state Supreme Court to do something else with him.

State Advisors to Federal Juvenile Justice Office Briefed on Reforms

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thirteen advocates and professionals from around the country who serve as advisors to the federal office for juvenile justice met for two days last week in Washington, D.C., to share information on reforms and funding at the state and federal levels. The Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, which normally meets online every few months, gathered face-to-face for the first time in a year. Its last online meeting occurred Aug. 10. 

Some of the reforms the committee discussed lie within the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention itself. Melodee Hanes, the acting office administrator, told committee members on the opening day of the meeting that a structural reorganization of her office, which has been in the works for months, would be announced soon.

Pennsylvania Amends Juvenile Murder Sentencing

Pennsylvania’s General Assembly last week, on the last day of its session, voted to end the automatic life without parole for teens convicted of first- or second-degree murder. But some advocates say the new scheme misses the point of real reform. Senate Bill 850 sets the minimum sentence for first-degree murders committed by 15- to 17-year-olds at 35 years. For younger teens, it’s 25 years. New second-degree murder minimum sentences would be broken up in the same tiers: 30 years for older teens; 20 for younger ones.

Massachusetts Leans toward Juvenile Hall for 17-year-olds

Massachusetts looks likely to raise the age of criminal jurisdiction to 18 next year, and may make more changes as nearly simultaneous new rules from the federal government, a U.S. Supreme Court decision and a report from the state’s Child Advocate nudge Boston lawmakers toward more reforms.

“I think there’s a lot of support” to raise the age, said state Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton), chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, as well as House sponsor of an age-raising bill that passed House and Senate committees this year. Right now, Massachusetts reserves juvenile proceedings for those under 17. Khan’s House Bill 450 simply replaced the word “seventeen” with “eighteen.”

“I’ll be working on that pretty steadily and heavily. It just doesn’t make any sense not to do that,” said Khan. That work comes as the U.S. Supreme Court and judges in state courts are more often echoing advocates for more flexibility in youth sentencing, on an argument that youths are still developing mentally and more capable of reformation than adults.