In June 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP) are unconstitutional for juvenile (under 18) defendants. Miller v. Alabama, ___U.S.___, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 2464-65 (2012). Thus, the Court found that a youth could not be sentenced to LWOP without considering the individual characteristics of the youth to determine if the youth was the “rare juvenile offender” displaying “irreparable corruption.” 132 S.Ct. 2455, 2469 (2012). Absent such a finding, the Court required imposition of a sentence that provided a “meaningful opportunity” for review.
Like mandatory LWOP schemes, Texas now imposes mandatory life on any juvenile convicted of capital murder. “Of the 366 Texas juveniles sentenced to life with the possibility of parole for capital murder since 1962, only 17 — less than 5 percent — have ever been released.” Meagan Flynn, Sorry for Life?: Ashley Ervin Didn’t Kill Anyone, But She Drove Home the Boys Who Did” Houston Press (Jan. 12, 2016). In Texas, where less than 5% of juveniles convicted of capital murder have EVER been paroled, a life sentence is the factual equivalent of life without parole. The semantic difference between “life” and “life without parole” cannot change the fact that ninety-five percent of the youth sentenced under the mandatory sentencing regime will die in prison.
The Solution: Re-sentencing Juvenile Lifers Using Direct and Strategic Litigation LSJA will provide direct and strategic litigation to youth who were tried and sentenced in the adult criminal justice system to extreme sentences, including life in prison with and without the possibility of parole. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that because adolescents are poor decision-makers, are more vulnerable to negative peer influences, and have a greater capacity for rehabilitation and change than adults, these youth must be given a meaningful opportunity for release. LSJA will build on the Court’s findings to ensure that youth are never sentenced to die in prison.
Research indicates that as people age, the likelihood of committing new crimes substantially decreases. This indicates that those serving life-long sentences, at great cost to the state, are incarcerated with very little safety risk reduction. Incarcerating juvenile lifers is unnecessary and extremely costly with minimal returns for public safety.