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October 26, 2016
Two interesting reviews of the (in)application of Graham and MIller in two states
In my upper-level sentencing course, we are now discussing the past, present and future of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence placing limits on the imposition of prison terms. Of course, this discussion now culminates in a review of the Supreme Court's recent work in Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama and their continuing fallout. Conveniently, just this past weekend, two different newspapers in two different states published these two articles on how that fallout is playing out:
From Jacksonville.com here about developments in Florida, "No Second Chance: Why juvenile offenders stay locked away"
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here about developments in Wisconsin, "Juvenile offenders in legal limbo: Although life sentences without parole banned for youths, 68 state inmates not likely to benefit"
This passage from the first of these articles highlights some reasons why, even years after Graham and Miller were decided and required resentencing of certain juvenile offenders, most of these offenders are still going to be spending many decades in prison before even having a chance at release:
In striking down these harsh sentences, the Supreme Court “obviously was concerned, No. 1, about locking kids up and throwing away the key,” said Marsha Levick, Philadelphia attorney and co-founder of the Juvenile Law Center. “The court was very clear that it believes kids are truly different.” Indeed Justice Elena Kagan has written that, “given all that we have said … about children’s diminished culpability, and heightened capacity for change, we think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.”
But in Courtroom 12, Circuit Judge John H. Skinner was unmoved. Despite hundreds of hours of legal work, stacks of documents and a morning of arguments, the judge told Thomas, “I haven’t really changed my mind at all as far as what you should get in this case.”
So Thomas, the youngest child in a tight-knit military family, was sentenced again to 40 years. This time, there will be a review in front of a judge and chance for release after 15 years, a provision that brings the penalty into compliance with state law.
Scenes like this one in a Jacksonville suburb are playing out around the state and across the country as judges resentencing juvenile offenders continue to issue lengthy sentences that advocates say defy the intent of the Supreme Court.
It will take years for the courts to work through the 58 Duval County homicide cases in which the juveniles’ original sentences have been deemed unconstitutional. Preparing for a resentencing hearing is intensive, and an area where the case law is constantly evolving.
But if the results from some of the earliest resolved Jacksonville cases are any indication, judges will continue to hand down long punishments. In the nine cases in which teens were first sentenced to life for childhood crimes that weren’t murder, seven of the defendants will be 60 or older when they are released.
October 26, 2016 at 08:52 AM | Permalink
This is another example of the limits of even Supreme Court opinions.
Posted by: Joe | Oct 26, 2016 9:40:19 AM
A human tragedy probably almost unique to the USA. Really a throwback to the days of slavery and the notion of human ownership and therefore worthlessness, which has somehow become transferred and entrenched in the psyche of the justice system to apply to those seen as the criminal class. How did it all go so wrong.
Posted by: peter | Oct 26, 2016 2:54:20 PM
Well Peter, not quite. These folk aren't exactly innocent of wrongdoing, so the slavery analogy is faulty.
Posted by: Steve UK | Oct 27, 2016 1:25:08 PM