Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Supreme Court To Decide Juvenile Lifers?

The NYT reports today the Supreme Court may be close to taking a case which asks whether sentencing juveniles, particularly 13 year olds, to LWOP (Life WithOut Parole) is a violation of the 8th amendment.

The trial lasted a day and ended in conviction. Then Judge Nicholas Geeker, of the circuit court in Escambia County, sentenced Mr. Sullivan [then 13 years old[ to life without the possibility of parole [for rape].

“I’m going to send him away for as long as I can,” Judge Geeker said.

Mr. Sullivan is 33 now, and his lawyers have asked the United States Supreme Court to consider the question of whether the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment extends to sentencing someone who was barely a teenager to die in prison for a crime that did not involve a killing.

People can argue about whether the punishment in Mr. Sullivan’s case is cruel. There is no question that it is unusual.

According to court papers and a report from the Equal Justice Initiative, which now represents Mr. Sullivan, only eight people in the world are serving sentences of life without parole for crimes they committed when they were 13. All are in the United States.
It gets worse when you take "without parole" out of the equation. As I've noted previously, "nearly 10,000 juveniles are serving "life sentences." Of those, 73 are serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were 13 or 14 years old."

Throw in the 2,000+ teens doing LWOP sentences (for crimes committed between the ages of 13-17), and you have a staggering number of adolescents doing lengthy sentences, many of whom are doing time in adult prisons, segregated away from the adult population in special "juvenile wings."

As I've also written, several states have started re-thinking trying juveniles as adults for many of these crimes. It's not out of the realm of possibility, using the Trop test, that the Supreme Court could use this legislative action (and the resounding international ban on such practices) as evidence that sentencing teens to life without parole is, indeed, a violation of our contemporary standards of decency, and therefore, unconstitutional.

Call us skeptical, but we'll watch and report.

No comments: