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April 8, 2009

"Teens locked up for life without a second chance"

The title of this post is the headline of this new extended CNN piece focused on juve LWOP sentences.   Here are snippets:

[There are at] least 73 U.S. inmates — most of them minorities — who were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison for crimes committed when they were 13 or 14, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization in Alabama that defends indigent defendants and prisoners. The 73 are just a fraction of the more than 2,000 offenders serving life sentences for crimes they committed as minors under the age of 18....

Numerous studies have shown that in the 1970s and 1980s, minors were rarely given life sentences, let alone life without parole, experts said. By the early 1990s, according to the Department of Justice, an alarming spike in juvenile homicides spawned a nationwide crackdown, including a movement to try kids in adult courts....

Today, there are only a handful of states — including Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Oregon — that prohibit sentencing minors to life without parole, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures....

In the past three years, attorneys at the Equal Justice Initiative have appealed cases involving 13- and 14-year-old offenders in state and federal court. Attorneys argue that the sentences are "cruel and unusual punishment" given the tender years of the offenders.

Some related posts on juve LWOP:

April 8, 2009 at 10:33 AM | Permalink


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Posted by: buy valium | Apr 8, 2009 1:46:28 PM

What is the estimate of the numbers of victims not injured during the incarceration of these murderers?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 8, 2009 3:29:49 PM

This story ranks with the death penalty itself as the two most compelling examples of Human Rights abuses within the US justice system today - unfortunately the tip of an iceberg that sets the US apart from its major historical allies, and now many new ones also. The lack of distinction between criminality and responsibility (through state of mental heath or youth) and the equally appalling lack of provision to act on that recognition, is a major failing of the justice system, along with the unbridled and abused power enjoyed by prosecutors - state and federal!

Posted by: peter | Apr 9, 2009 2:56:39 AM

Just for clarity's sake, while Colorado recently prohibited LWOP for juveniles, this was not retroactive, mostly due to the strong lobbying of the issue by the state's District Attorney's association.

There are several dozen juveniles serving LWOP in Colorado (mostly on felony-murder charges) and their cases are currently being reviewed for clemency purposes by a special panel convened by Governor Bill Ritter (D), formerly the Denver District Attorney, to provide him with recommendations in those cases.

The youngest or otherwise least culpable may have a plausible chance of clemency. This is less likely for older offenders who were triggermen.

In Colorado, a key backdrop for this LWOP for juveniles and other legislation has been ongoing controversy of a direct file law that allowed district attorneys to file certain serious felony cases against juveniles in the adult division of the trial court of general jurisdiction, rather than having to first receive permission from a judge to move a case against a juvenile out of the juvenile court part of the trial court of general jurisdiction (or, in Denver, stand alone juvenile court). District attorneys have, unsurprisingly, made greater use of adult proceedings against juveniles than judges had before that change. This, in turn, led to longer sentences in these cases. Direct file had an impact on many juvenile offenders that was much greater than LWOP availability for juveniles in particular.

Ironically, Colorado was instrumental in establishing the concept of a separate juvenile justice system with separate sentencing provisions in the first place under the leadership of people like Denver icon, philanthropist and activist Molly Brown.

Oklahoma courts, meanwhile, have held that their juvenile justice system no longer qualifies for juvenile justice system treatment for constitutional law purposes, because the justifications for providing less due process in juvenile proceedings (e.g. the lack of a jury trial right) no longer exist in the process there -- it is too much like the adult process now in the court's view.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Apr 9, 2009 4:31:28 PM

Correction, Kansas, not Oklahoma.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Apr 9, 2009 5:32:05 PM

If anyone is listening in Florida, we have hundreds of YO's LWOP, and I have been on a crusade to end this practice, with weekly emails to our Judicals here. Just recently a retired Florida Judge told the whole state, that had he known they would be LWOP he would have never sentenced them. So now we know how well the judges know the law here. We have no real statistics as most of these have grown up and are not classified as YO's anymore.

Posted by: Linda | Apr 10, 2009 6:13:01 PM

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