The Supreme Court is considering whether it is unconstitutional to impose a sentence of life in prison without parole (LWOP) for a minor who commits homicide, reports Lyle Denniston in SCOTUS, (the definitive blog on the Supreme Court).
The two petitions, both filed by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that provides legal representation to indigent defendants in Montgomery, Alabama, argue that LWOP violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” (73 youths are currently serving LWOP sentences for homicide nationwide).
This is the third time the court has considered limiting the severity of punishment for youth--the first time in 2005 in Roper v. Simmons, ending the death penalty for youths who commit murder as minors; the second time was in 2010 in Graham v. Florida, ending life-without-parole for those who commit non-homicide crimes as minors.
The cases are Miller v. Alabama (docket 10-9646) and Jackson v. Hobbs (10-9647); the Court granted review of the two separately, but said that it will hear oral arguments in them back-to-back. Those hearings are likely to be in late February, with the decision before next summer.
Since 1990, the petitions said, a total of 3,632 youths arrested for homicide were 14 years old or younger... yet only 58 of them — less than 2% — have received LWOP sentences. The lawyers argue this data shows a "national consensus."
In the Alabama case, Evan James Miller, above in foreground, was convicted of killing a neighbor in Country Life Trailer Court near the town of Speake in the rural, north-central part of the state. In July 2003, Miller and another youth had been drinking with Miller’s 52-year-old neighbor, Cole Cannon, when a fight broke out. Miller was later convicted of beating Cannon so severely that he could not get up from the floor, and died of inhaling smoke after Miller had set fire to the trailer, apparently to cover up evidence of the crime. Read the story in the Decatur Daily News here.
In the Arkansas case, Kuntrell Jackson, who had grown up in crime-ridden housing projects in Blytheville, decided in November 1999, along with two other boys, to rob a local video store. The two boys, older than Kuntrell, went into the Movie Magic store, and one of those two allegedly shot and killed the clerk, Laurie Troup, after she had refused a demand for money. Kuntrell had entered the store after the other two boys, and claimed that his only role was to be a lookout; after the shooting, the three fled without taking any money.
California State Senator Leland Yee's bill (SB9) that would have banned imposing sentences of LWOP for minors in non-homicidal cases died in the state Assembly in September--read the story here. California is one of the few remaining states that still imposes LWOP on minors.
Written for California's Children by Elizabeth J Carlyle.