Should children who commit serious crimes, including murder and sexual assaults, be sent to prison for life without the chance of future parole? State courts have struggled with this issue for decades, with each jurisdiction crafting a set of guidelines that reflect the views of the local community and current state law.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a ruling on a case involving a Mississippi man who was just 15 when he stabbed is grandfather. As with most cases, each side offered a different version of the crime. The defense cited a long history of child abuse, while the state portrayed the offender, now in his 30’s, as a cold-blooded killer who should never be set free.
Writing for the court’s new conservative majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh opined that a judge is not required to make a finding that the defendant is permanently “incorrigible.” The fact that Mississippi affords judges the option of life in prison or a lesser sentence satisfies the need to protect a person’s Eighth Amendment rights, the court ruled.
Advocates for juvenile justice worry that defense lawyers will have a much harder time convincing judges that a defendant’s rehabilitation is relevant, based on the new ruling.
Illinois is ahead of many states when it comes to juvenile justice reform. Legislators codified the rules laid out in a Supreme Court decision requiring judges to consider “the hallmark attributes of youth” that set children and adults apart when it comes to the decision-making process. Judges who are reviewing the life sentences must decide if the person who committed the crime as a minor has shown significant rehabilitation during their time in prison.
I recently talked with Elizabeth Clarke, founder of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, and other lawyers about the impact the new ruling could have on Illinois cases.
Here’s a link to the story published on WGLT.org: