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Inside Criminal Justice

High Court Bars Mandatory Life-Without-Parole for Teen Murderers

June 25, 2012 10:46:19 am
Comments (3)

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The attorney for two men serving mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for crimes committed when they were 14 lauded a Supreme Court ruling today calling the sentences “cruel and unusual.”

Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative, said the court recognized that fundamental differences between adults and children should be considered in felony murder cases.

“The court has made an incredibly important step forward in recognizing what I think has been one of the great tragedies in American criminal justice,” Stevenson said during a conference call with reporters.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment bars mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the majority opinion that mandatory life sentences prevent judges and juries from considering a juvenile’s ‘lessened culpability.’

"By requiring that all children convicted of homicide receive lifetime incarceration without possibility of parole, regardless of their age and age-related characteristics and the nature of their crimes, the mandatory sentencing schemes before us violate [the] principle of proportionality, and so the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment," Kagan said.

In a dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the question of how long to imprison youthful offenders was not the Supreme Court’s to decide.

"Perhaps science and policy suggest society should show greater mercy to young killers, giving them a greater chance to reform themselves at the risk that they will kill again. [  ] But that is not our decision to make. Neither the text of the Constitution nor our precedent prohibits legislatures from requiring that juvenile murderers be sentenced to life without parole,” Roberts said.

The justices were ruling on two cases in which mandatory life sentences were given for murders committed when the defendants were 14 years old.

Evan Miller was convicted for the 2003 killing of his neighbor, Cole Cannon. Alabama prosecutors said Miller and an accomplice robbed and beat Cannon before setting his trailer on fire and killing him in the process.

Kuntrell Jackson was convicted for his role in the 1999 shooting death of an Arkansas video- store clerk. Jackson claims that he served as a lookout in the attempted robbery and did not expect to be an accomplice to homicide.

Stevenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative, said both men would be returning to state courts to seek re-sentencing. He added that the decision may affect the sentences of more than 2,000 inmates nationwide.

“We are hopeful that many people who are entitled to re-sentences will be spared life without parole,” Stevenson said.

Read the opinion here.

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Posted by Tanaji
Monday, July 16, 2012 04:21

The main goal for Mai’s family was saefty. I believe tha were able to achieve their goal because the immigrated and didn’t have to fear the government. After Mai’s family agreed to sponser them to come to America I think they were happy that they made the journey. I do think that they may have regretted their decision at first because they were stuck in the immigration camp.I’m still curious about the actual journey on the sea. I think there could have been a few more descriptive chapters about living on the boat and the relationships that formed on the boat. As far a a sequel, I think there three great ones that would be interesting. the first is obvious and would be about Mai and her family, How they made it in America. What jobs they were able to get and how the transitioned to life in America. Another interesting idea would be about Loi. I was sad that he went back to Vietnam, but I think his journey back and what he did with his life would make a good book. I actually thought one of the families would take him in or adopt him.. Te last book could be about Kim and Boc Si Hong.I really enjoyed reading this book. I hope you all did too!

Posted by Leticia McDuffy
Thursday, July 12, 2012 08:12

I am an at-risk youth&inmate advocate/urban community activist, as well as, the wife of Wajuba Z.Z. McDuffy (CDC# P-24666). You may or may not recognize his name because for years the court has been misspelling it as “Majuba”. He happens to be one of the many listed as a “teen killer” who has a JLWOP case. Its good to hear that there’ll be resentencing for alot of the JLWOP cases. Alot of these people are nothing like they were going into the correctional system or have unique cases, like, my husband’s where they’re actually innocent, weren’t there or had no knowledge of the crime until they were arrested. A resentencing for him would be nice but an exoneration would be even better. He’s been gone 14yrs now & FINALLY a door has opened up for him. His case has been tooken on by the Northern California Innocence Project & we’re praying for nothing less than his exoneration & UHURU=FREEDOM! If anyone is interested in helping to support the OPERATION FREE BIXX or RELEASE WAJUBA NOW FUND you may do so by ordering a pre-designed or custom made tee by me at www.skreened.com/chokolateexpressions, by clicking your “like” button on Facebook at our Release Wajuba Now! Fund page & emailing to: operation_free_bixx@rocketmail.com or freebixx@gmail.com

Posted by Keith Richard Radford Jr
Thursday, June 28, 2012 01:24

Well when that man (some short fat Irish guy) said I was going to get a lifetime sentences without parole for a crime I did not commit at congress medical in Pasadena saying I shot someone that I did not shoot; Does that mean someone will pull that file from my juvenile records and review it along with all those pages stamped in big red blocks that said Classified and Top Secret? Will they read the report and see that I did say who that was? Or is the fact that I am now 58 and it all happened when I was just 13 negate me any justice?

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