Supreme Court To Hear Death in Prison for Teens Cases
(Bumped. And Sentencing Law and Policy has lots more links.)On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear two cases challenging laws imposing life sentences without parole on juveniles who are not convicted of murder.
The cases are both from Florida: The Equal Justice Initiative has an excellent synopsis of Florida v. Sullivan and Sullivan v. Graham in layman's terms.
Both cases ask the Court to address whether the differences between children and adults that led the Court to strike down the death penalty for children also make permanent imprisonment a constitutionally impermissible punishment for a child.
Joe Sullivan was 13 at the time of his crime. He is now 33 and in a wheelchair:
Joe Sullivan is one of only two thirteen-year-olds in the country sentenced to life without parole for an offense that did not involve a killing. In 1989, Joe was a mentally disabled thirteen-year-old child living in a home where he was regularly subjected to physical and sexual abuse.
The facts of the crime:
On the day of the crime, two older boys convinced Joe to participate in a burglary. The three boys entered an empty home and one older boy took some money and jewelry before the three left. That afternoon, the elderly homeowner was sexually assaulted in her home. She never saw her attacker.
One of the older boys, who may have been the true assailant, accused Joe of the sexual battery. Both older boys received short sentences in juvenile detention. Thirteen-year-old Joe Sullivan was charged and tried in adult court.
Joe was tried by a six-person jury in a one-day proceeding; opening statements began sometime after 9 a.m., and the jury returned its verdict at 4:55 p.m. During trial, the prosecutor and witnesses made repeated, unnecessary reference to the fact that Joe is African American and the victim is white; one witness repeatedly said the perpetrator of the assault was a “colored boy” or “a dark colored boy.”
Biological evidence collected from the victim was not presented at trial and was destroyed before it could be subjected to DNA testing. Joe’s appointed lawyer — who was later disbarred — did not object to a "voice identification" of Joe by the victim (who was blindfolded during the assault) that she had first rehearsed with the prosecutor before repeating it for the jury. Joe was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Even though Joe was the youngest person in the country sentenced to die in prison for a non-homicide, his lawyer filed a brief on appeal saying there were no issues to challenge in his case.
After being sentenced, at age 14, Joe was sent to an adult prison where he was brutalized and sexually victimized. He has MS and is confined to a wheelchair.
The Graham case is also troubling:
Terrance Graham was sixteen years old when he and a co-defendant tried to rob a store and the co-defendant hit the store manager with a pipe. Terrance was charged with armed burglary and attempted armed robbery. He had no prior criminal record and, in exchange for a guilty plea, was sentenced to three years probation.
At seventeen, Terrance was accused of committing a home invasion robbery with two 20-year-old men. He denied involvement in the crime but admitted that he had violated probation by missing his curfew. No jury trial was held; the trial judge found by a preponderance of the evidence (not beyond a reasonable doubt) that Terrance committed the home invasion robbery and violated his probation. The trial court sentenced Terrance to life in prison with no chance of parole for the original armed burglary charge. (my emphasis)
Check out Cruel and Unusual: Sentencing 13- and 14-Year-Old Children to Die in Prison by the Equal Justice Initiative and the factsheet, Sentencing Children to Die in Prison.
Of the 73 children sentenced to die in prison nationwide, five were sentenced to die in prison for crimes at age 13 or 14 in which no one was killed. All of these kids are children of color. All of these sentences were imposed in the State of Florida.
Here are the summaries of the Petitioners' and Amicus Briefs in the cases.
There are 2,500 offenders serving life without parole in the U.S. for crimes committed as juveniles. 109 of them were convicted of non-homicide offenses. Of these 109, 77 are in Florida. The number of child offenders serving life w is zero.
Some more stats: The states incarcerating juvenile offenders for life for non-homicide crimes are: FL, LA, IA, CA, NE, SC. 100% of juveniles serving life without parole (death in prison sentences) are non-white.
How pathetic is this?
Nations opposing the 2006 UN General Assembly Resolution calling on all nations to
abolish juvenile LWOP: 1 (United States)
Nations that have not ratified Article 37 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, prohibiting juvenile LWOP sentences: 2 (United States and Somalia)
A life sentence is a sentence to die in prison. That we impose it on juveniles, some as young as 13 and 14, is unacceptable. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will agree.
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