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Life Without Parole Sentences for Juveniles

While the US Supreme Court held in 2010 that youth offenders under age 18 convicted of non-homicide crimes could not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, about 2,600 youth offenders continue to serve such a sentence for homicide-related crimes. – Human Rights Watch, 2012   [Read it here http://bit.ly/AiMRCj  Excerpts Below.]

In one study of youth arrested for murder in 25 states where there was available data, African Americans were found to be sentenced to juvenile  life without parole at a rate that is 1.59 times higher than white youth. 

 The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) has joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, and Leadership Conference on Race and Human Rights in filing an amicus brief in opposing the imposition of life sentences without parole on juvenile offenders in the Miller v. Alabama andJackson v. Hobbs cases (Miller-Jackson) currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. [ Read it here: http://bit.ly/xPZlOO ]

The amicus brief contends that life without parole sentences for fourteen year-old offenders violate the Constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and the historic role of racial stereotyping in imposing these sentences on children further undermines their validity.

Historically, the imposition of life without parole sentences is rooted in stereotyping. For much of the 20th century, courts widely held that children were less culpable than adults and therefore not subject to such severe penalties. But in the 1980s and 90s, the media, academics, and politicians increasingly characterized teen crime in racially coded terms. For example, a 2000 study of news broadcasts in six major U.S. cities found that 62% of the stories involving Latino youth were about murder or attempted murder, even though data from 1998 indicated that minority youth accounted for only 25% of all juvenile crime arrests. This false conflation between race, youth, and criminal behavior — the infamous “Central Park Jogger” case being the most notorious example — led to harsh sentences for children previously only reserved for adults.

Consistent with its beginnings, the life without parole sentence continues to be imposed on children of color at disproportionate rates. According to a 2008 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report, African American youth nationwide serve life without parole sentences “at a rate that is ten times higher than white youth.” Thus, the continuing influence of race on the sentencing of youth to life without parole renders it unconstitutional. AALDEF contends that the Supreme Court should categorically exempt youth from this extreme and final sentence.

 

 

 

Nos. 10-9646 & 10-9647

IN THE

Supreme Court of the United States

EVAN MILLER, Petitioner,

v.

ALABAMA, Respondent.

KUNTRELL JACKSON, Petitioner,

v.

RAY HOBBS, Director,

Arkansas Department of Correction, Respondent.

On Writ of Certiorari to the

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

and the Supreme Court of Arkansas

BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE

NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE & EDUCATIONAL FUND,

INC., CHARLES HAMILTON HOUSTON INSTITUTE

FOR RACE AND JUSTICE, LATINOJUSTICE

PRLDEF, ASIAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND

EDUCATION FUND AND LEADERSHIP

CONFERENCE ON CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS

IN SUPPORT OF PETITIONERS

       

 

SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT

The question presented by these cases is whether the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a fourteen-year-old child convicted of a homicide offense violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments’ prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.  As detailed by the submissions of the Petitioners and their amici curiae, the answer is “yes.”  As this amicus brief  explains, the improper

influence of race impairs the culpability analyses of children subject to life without parole sentences, which is further evidence of the unconstitutionality of this sentencing practice.  Although a proper evaluation of culpability is fundamental under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, history shows that racial stereotypes propelled the implementation of the laws that led to juvenile life without parole sentences, and research establishes that children of color are sentenced to life without parole at markedly disproportionate rates.  This Court

declared, in  Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010), that youth are less culpable than adults and, therefore, less deserving of life without parole sentences.   Yet, it is clear that race critically and inappropriately influences the assessment of blameworthiness in the context of juvenile life without parole sentencing.  Given this constitutional infirmity, as well as the severity and finality 

 http://bit.ly/yuh15a   Human Rights Watch files an amicus brief. 

Human Rights Watch also joined 25 other institutions in filing an amicus brief before the US Supreme Court in the upcoming cases of Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Arkansas. Both involve offenders who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed when they were 14 years old. The United States is the only country in the world that sentences youth to life without the possibility of parole for offenses they committed before the age of 18. Universally accepted standards, including several treaties to which the US is a party, condemn such sentencing of youth. We argue that international practice, opinion, and treaty obligations support holding all life without parole sentences for juveniles unconstitutional.

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