Michigan Judge Sentences 15 Year Old to Life Without Parole
14 year old Dakota Eliason shot and killed his grandfather. He said he went back and forth for hours debating whether to kill him or commit suicide, and decided to on the former.
The DA charged him in adult court. Monday, a Michigan judge imposed a sentence of life without parole, finding it violated neither the Constitution nor international treaties. He rejected a sentence of life with parole saying the law didn't authorize it. His opinion is here. His lawyer disagrees:
“Anyone that's spent any time around that kid will tell you he's a loving kid, certainly at his point, people that don't know him are defining him by the one terrible thing he did but he does have remorse he does wish he could take it back,” said defense attorney Lanny Fisher.
Here's Dakota addressing the court and his family at the sentencing:
Back to the judge: On why Dakota killed his grandfather:
Defendant was trying to cope with the recent suicide of a close friend, but otherwise he was attempting to work through problems common to many 14-year-old boys. His parents separated when he was very young. He didn't see his mother and half-brother as much as he'd like. He chafed under the high expectations of his father. His dog died.
There's no mention of how 14 year old brains don't process things the same way as adults.
On the U.S. treaty obligations, he said the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not preclude imposition of a life without parole sentence.
Defendant also argues that the ICCPR protects defendant from being treated and sentenced as an adult in this case. However, as with Article 7, in ratifying the ICCPR, the United States reserved the right to treat juveniles as adults "in exceptional circumstances". The court finds that the facts of this case constitute just such exceptional circumstances.
He next addressed and rejected arguments based on The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the U.S. in 1994.
He also refused to apply the The International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,which the U.S. ratified in 1994.
Then he ruled that the life sentence wasn't banned by the Convention on the Rights of the Child nor international law. He said while the U.S. passed it, the Senate never ratified it so we aren't a party to it.
Studies are clear. See the Juvenile Policy Institute's study, "The Risks Juveniles Face When They Are Incarcerated With Adults." Kids housed with adults in prison are 7 times more likely to be assaulted; Their suicide rate in adult jails is 7.7 times higher than that of juvenile detention centers.
According to Law Enforcement:
Children are abused more regularly and driven to desperation in prison facilities more quickly. Adult prisons and jails are not equipped to protect young offenders from these risks as well, they are more likely to fall through the cracks.
Juveniles are more likely to be raped in an adult prison:
Five times as many youth held in adult prisons answered yes to the question "has anyone attempted to sexually attack or rape you" than those held in juvenile institutions. Close to ten percent of the youth interviewed reported a sexual attack, or rape attempt had been levied against them in the adult prisons, while closer to one -percent reported the same in the juvenile institution.
Rape of juveniles in adult prisons are especially high:
In an expose on prisons published in The New Republic, a corrections officer is quoted saying that a young inmate's chance of avoiding rape were "almost zero.... He'll get raped within the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours. That's almost standard."22 As the juveniles sent to adult prison system will be the youngest inmates on the block, they will likely face the greatest risk of being sexually attacked.
In May, the Surpreme Court ruled juveniles can only be sentenced to life without parole if the crime was a homicide. It's way past time that it goes the extra mile, and outlaws lwop sentences for all juveniles.
FrontLine had an interesting program last year, When Juveniles Get Life. In Michigan alone, 346 children are serving lwop. In Illinios, it's103; Missouri is at 116.Florida has 266 and California has 250. Louisiana has 355. Pensylsvania has 444. Texas New Jersey and New York have zero.
In 2006, Colorado passed a law providing that juveniles sentenced to life could be eligible for parole after 40 years. As usual, the law was not made retoractive and does nothing to help the 48 already serving life sentences when the law was passed.
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