Sunday, May 8, 2016

Cruel and Unusual: Juveniles Sentenced to Life Inprisonment Without Possibility of Parole

I will update this post as new cases arise.

It is easier to build boys than to mend men.  Author Unknown

In 2013, The Sentencing Project Report issued a report entitled:  LIFE GOES ON:  THE HISTORIC RISE IN LIFE SENTENCES IN AMERICA.  As disturbing as the report is, what is particularly horrifying is the following: 

"Approximately 2,500 juveniles are serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.26 The United States is the only country in the world that imposes this sentence on youth.  Juveniles serving such sentences have recently garnered attention because of two major Supreme Court cases, Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama.27  In Graham, the Court decided in 2010 that because of their cognitive, behavioral, and emotional differences from adults, youth under 18 at the time of their crime who did not commit a homicide could not be sentenced to the harshest available sentence.  In the Miller case two years later, the Court again relied on expert knowledge from the field of adolescent brain science to find an 8th Amendment violation in sentencing youth to LWOP in a mandatory way that did not allow for consideration of their age and other relevant factors.  According to estimates, the Miller decision might affect the sentences of 2,000 of these life-sentenced individuals, but cases are pending in as many as ten state supreme courts about whether Miller applies retroactively. Despite these two decisions, juveniles can still receive LWOP sentences through discretionary judicial decisionmaking.

In addition to the juveniles serving life sentences without parole, 7,862 people are serving life sentences with the possibility of parole for offenses that occurred before they turned 18.  Looking at overall life sentences, we note that in four states, more than 10% of all life-sentenced prisoners were under the age of 18 at the time of their offense: Nevada (12.5%), Wisconsin (11.0%), Maryland (10.5%), and Georgia (10.2%). Nationally, 6.5% of those serving life sentences with parole were under 18 at the time of their crime.

When a life sentence is imposed on a young person, it is precipitated by a mandatory or discretionary transfer of the case to the adult criminal court.  Only youth who have been transferred out of the juvenile court system and into the adult criminal justice system are candidates for life sentences; there is no such sentence in the juvenile justice system.  Transferring youth to adult court became more common in the late 1980s and early 1990s with a political response to a rise in youth crime.  The near doubling of cases transferred to the adult system from 7,200 in 1985 to 13,200 in 1994 contributed to many more youth being given life sentences.  Because of the growing awareness of harm done to youth combined with increased public safety problems when young people are moved to the adult system, many states are beginning to reconsider the transfer mechanism that tries youth in the adult system,28 but nearly all states and the federal government still maintain some process by which youth can be moved to criminal courts for prosecution and in some cases this transfer is mandatory." (id. at 11, 12).

This is INSANITY!  The United States lectures other countries on human rights, yet we try kids as adults and lock them up in adult prisons for the rest of their lives. And we think this is justice.  NOT!!!

Accordingly, I will track decisions and articles dealing with the imprisonment of juveniles in adult prisons without possibility of parole.

Graham v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010)  8th Amendment; LWOP; non-homicide  J. Kennedy opinion.  State cannot sentence juvenile offenders who committed nonhomicide crimes to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP).   State must give defendants “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” (Id. at 2030).

Michael T. Freeman, Meaningless Opportunities:  Graham v. Florida and the Reality of de Facto LWOP Sentences, 44 McGeorge L. Rev. 961 (2013) De facto LWOP sentences for juveniles who commit nonhomicide offenses categorically violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.   “de facto LWOP sentence” as term-of-years sentence that serves as the “functional equivalent of a life without parole term.”  (Id. At 963)

California v. Mendez, 114 Cal.Rptr.3d 870 (Ct. App., 2d Dist. 2010)  De facto LWOP Discusses Mendez’s  lengthy sentence.  Mendez had not received a LWOP sentence but argued that lengthy sentence was de facto LWOP

California v. Nuñez, 125 Cal. Rptr.3d 616 (Ct. App., 3d Dist. 2011) De facto LWOP Invalidated 175-year-long sentence for juvenile who committed aggravated kidnapping.

California v. Caballero, 282 P.3d 291 (Cal. 2012)  De facto LWOP De facto LWOP sentences for juvenile nonhomicide offenders violate the Eight Amendment.

California v. J.I.A., 127 Cal. Rptr.3d 141 (Ct. App. 4th Dist. 2011) De facto LWOP Fifty-years-to-life sentence for fourteen-year-old defendant is cruel and unusual punishment because the defendant is ineligible for parole until age of seventy.

California v. Ramirez, 123 Cal. Rptr.3d 155 (Ct. App. 2d Dist. 2011) Contra authority
Strong dissent.  Sentence of 120 years to life for a juvenile defendant who committed attempted murder was constitutional.   But see id. at 166-71 (Manella, J., dissenting) – Graham applies and defendant’s sentence is unconstitutional.

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