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November 7, 2011

SCOTUS grants cert on juve LWOP for young murderers ... and creates new final paper opportunity

Big sentencing news from the Supreme Court today, as reported in this blog post at SL&P: "Supreme Court grants cert on two Eighth Amendment LWOP challenges for 14-year-old murderers!"  These cases now on the Supreme Court's agenda are Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs (which comes from Arkansas).

I will discuss these two new SCOTUS cases briefly in class this week (in part to explain how writing an amicus brief for filing in the Supreme Court can be an alternative to the final take-home paper in the class).  In the meantime, here are links to the state court rulings now to be reviewed by SCOTUS: 

November 7, 2011 in Class activities, Scope of imprisonment, SCOTUS cases of note | Permalink


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Not quite LWOP, but SCOTUS just reinstated an Ohio murder conviction (a link to the per curiam opinion is at the bottom of the page): http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Briefing-Room/News-Releases/November-2011/Attorney-General-DeWine-Wins-Reinstatement-of-Tole

Posted by: Heather Williams | Nov 7, 2011 2:28:25 PM

Just read the very descriptive facts of the Miller case. I'm very interested in how this case will be decided. Based on SCOTUS's holding that minors under 18 can't be given the DP, I can't seem to justify LWOP for someone under 18 for basically the same reasons. Many argue that LWOP is a fate worse than death (not me though).

The 14-year old defendant in Miller might have even been under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol during his crime. A 14-year old doesn't have the maturity to completely understand his actions, much less so if he is inebriated. I often come back to the trial court judge's decision in the Leopold and Loeb case. It took incredible foresight at that time in our country's history (1920s) to recognize that the 17-year old defendants shouldn't have been given the DP, and ultimately one of them was paroled in his 50's. A 14-year old deserves that same chance at freedom at some point (at least this one).

Posted by: Bradley Newsad | Nov 7, 2011 8:26:32 PM

I'm in favor of eliminating LWOP for juvenile offenders, or maybe especially the adolescent ones, purely because of the predetermination--while the individual is still a juvenile--that (s)he will definitely never be fit to reenter society. But that is not to say that a person can never demonstrate at this young age that (s)he is so dangerous that (s)he should stay incarcerated for life. So, under Graham, the offender would have to be given a term-of-years sentence with a meaningful opportunity to obtain release. On the one hand, a terribly dangerous offender could be given these opportunities and continually be denied release based on the threat to society. This seems the most reasonable course to me, and each offender could be monitored and examined on a more individual, case-by-case basis. On the other hand, I would want to make sure that if LWOP is declared unconstitutional for juveniles (or a certain class of juveniles, like those 14 and under), that these long term-of-years sentences give enough opportunity for release, and early enough, not to be considered virtual LWOP and therefore also potentially unconstitutional.

Some young killers I find particularly scary are this 16-year-old in State v. Windom -- http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?xmldoc=In%20IDCO%2020110316358.xml&docbase=CSLWAR3-2007-CURR -- and this 14-year-old in State v. Ninham -- https://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=64617

Posted by: Shawna | Nov 8, 2011 12:11:34 AM

I agree with Shawna’s assertion that the Court should eliminate LWOP for juvenile offenders. In two recent Supreme Court cases, the Court cited medical, psychological, and sociological studies showing that even those inmates guilty of the most heinous crimes are less culpable than adult killers. Roper outlawed the death penalty for crimes committed by juveniles, while Graham found unconstitutional life sentences without parole for non-homicide crimes committed by children and adolescents. Both cases considered research that indicates that, compared with adults, juveniles lack maturity and a developed sense of responsibility and are more susceptible to pressure from others.

The fact that juveniles’ characters are still being shaped and that their brains are still developing means it is possible that juveniles can change in prison. Maybe some juveniles cannot change and should remain behind bars for life, but the only way to fairly make that judgment is to provide a fair hearing to determine the extent of their rehabilitation. While not all juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment deserve release, they do deserve a chance to make the case for release.

Posted by: Todd Seaman | Nov 8, 2011 11:40:00 AM

I agree that LWOP should be eliminated as an option for juveniles, but I found the idea that Professor Berman brought up in class about where the defining line for "juveniles" should be drawn to be an interesting question, i.e. should the legal definition of under 18 govern in this context, or should the Supreme Court draw a constitutional line at a younger age. Even if LWOP for juveniles is eliminated, I am not sure that I feel comfortable with the assertion that an individual who commits a crime at 18 years of age is more deserving of life without parole than someone who commits the same crime at 17.5 yrs of age. On the other hand, if LWOP is retained for juveniles, I think there is a sound argument to be made that there is a significant difference between the culpability of a 13 year old defendant and a 17 year old defendant. If the Supreme Court upholds LWOP for juveniles, I will be interested to see whether it finds a way to draw another constitutional line within the juvenile class. I would hope that if LWOP was permitted, the Court would carve out a class of juveniles under a certain age as an exception.

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