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November 7, 2011

Basic background on Jackson and Miller, the new SCOTUS juve LWOP cases

EvanmillerThis AP story, which reports on the Supreme Court's important decision today to grant review in two cases involving Eighth Amendment challenges to life without parole sentences (basics here), provides this background on the defendants and crimes now to be assessed by the Justices:

The justices will examine a pair of cases from the South involving young killers who are serving life sentences for crimes they committed when they were 14.

Both cases were brought by the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala. The institute said that life without parole for children so young “is cruel and unusual” and violates the Constitution.  The group says roughly six dozen people in 18 states are under life sentences and ineligible for parole for crimes they committed at 13 or 14.

Kuntrell Jackson was sentenced to life in prison in Arkansas after the shooting death of a store clerk during an attempted robbery in 1999.  Another boy shot the clerk, but because Jackson was present he was convicted of capital murder and aggravated robbery.

Evan Miller was convicted of capital murder during the course of arson.  A neighbor, while doing drugs and drinking with Miller and a 16-year-old boy, attacked Miller. Intoxicated, Miller and his friend beat the man and set fire to his home, killing the 52-year-old man. Miller’s friend testified against him, and got life in prison with the possibility of parole.

The picture posted here comes from this EJI slide show of a number of youngsters who were sentenced to LWOP for crimes committed at age 14 or younger.  The picture is of Evan Miller, though his age in this picture in not clear and the slide show caption indicates Miller has just turned 18.  A later slide in the slide show reports that "over 60% of all 13 and 14-year-old children sentenced to death in prison in the U.S. are people of color."

I will be doing lots of posting with background on these two cases in the run-up to oral argument (which I expect will be in March).  In the meantime, here are links to the state court rulings to be reviewed by the Justices: Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs.  Both rulings provide a bit more background on the defendants' crimes and both rejected the Eighth Amendment arguments that these defendants have now before the Supreme Court.

November 7, 2011 at 01:13 PM | Permalink


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I thought that one of the signature issues with American criminal jurisprudence was getting rid of the principal/accomplice distinction. Now, we're going to constitutionalize it for the sake of murderers?

Posted by: federalist | Nov 7, 2011 1:48:38 PM

I'll defer to people like Kent and Bill--isn't there an Apprendi issue lurking here? If Enmund is going to be brought in, then won't the jury get the issue?

Posted by: federalist | Nov 7, 2011 8:05:35 PM

Nice that the 8th Amendment issue was addressed in the state courts. Whatever your take on the merits, I think it is preferable for the Court and the litigants (a) to have a reasoned opinion to review, and (b) to be able to focus on the substance without having to deal with collateral procedural default/independent-and-adequate-state-grounds issues.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 10, 2011 1:53:18 PM

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