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Supreme Court to Review Life Without Parole For Children

The Supreme Court Justices are obviously avid TalkLeft readers. How else to explain the Court's agreement to decide whether the imposition of a sentence of "life without parole" upon a juvenile offender for a crime other than murder is constitutional? After all, the Court granted certiorari in two cases raising the issue yesterday, just four days after this TalkLeft post declared such sentences to be "costly, cruel and foolish." When TalkLeft speaks, the Supreme Court listens!

Yeah, right. To be fair, the Justices might be readers of the Los Angeles Times editorial page, from which the "costly, cruel and foolish" language was borrowed. Or maybe they just thought the issue had merit. If so, they were right.

If, as the Court reasoned in Roper v. Simmons, the death penalty is unconstitutional when applied to crimes committed by children because children are "immature, unformed, irresponsible and susceptible to negative influences, including peer pressure," the penalty of life without parole suffers from the same infirmity. It assumes that a child, whose intellectual and emotional development is incomplete, will never change, even after reaching adulthood, and therefore deserves no chance of parole. [more ...]

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Sentencing Kids to Life Without Parole: Costly, Cruel & Foolish

Yesterday's riff on the cruel and misguided policy of prosecuting and punishing children as if they were adults -- inspired by news that 14-year-old Kearie Brown will be tried in adult court -- shares the sentiment expressed today in a Los Angeles Times editorial that calls for a ban on "life without parole" sentences for juveniles:

Children, even really bad ones, are different from adults. That basic truth is the foundation of our juvenile justice system, which seeks to protect society from violent youth while recognizing that they haven't yet developed an adult's brainpower, resistance to peer pressure, judgment and thus moral capacity. ...

[L]ocking up children as young as 14 for life without even the most remote possibility of parole ... [is] costly, cruel and foolish.

Judges who impose harsh sentences often claim that severe punishment deters others who might be tempted to commit a similar crime. That rationale, dubious when applied to adults, is wholly misguided when applied to children who haven't developed the ability to understand or envision the lifelong consequences of impulsive action. As the editorial reminds us: [more ...]

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No Matter the Alleged Crime, A 14 Year Old Kid Is Still A Kid

Kearie Brown is charged with felony murder in Kansas City. She allegedly shot a 16-year-old in the head as he tried to drive away from a carjacking. Kearie was 13 at the time.

Understandably, the victim's father finds it difficult to wrap his head around the accusation that a 13-year-old girl killed his son.

"It's hard to even begin to know how to feel about it. I can't hate a child," said [Scott] Sappington Sr.

At 14, Kearie is indeed a child. But when she goes to court she'll be tried as if she were an adult. It is as if the juvenile justice system hates children. [more ...]

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CA Fights to Keep Adult Labeled Psycopathic Killer in Juvenile Custody

Prosecutors say Donald Schmidt is a psychopath. Maybe he is. They say he has serious difficulty controlling his dangerous behavior. That might be true, although he's been in custody for more than 20 years and has therefore had no opportunity to demonstrate volitional control in an unconfined setting. During that time, according to his public defender, Schmidt has earned a high school diploma, has served as a grief counselor, and has excelled in treatment.

Putting aside the ongoing debate over the wisdom of detaining people in what amounts to a correctional setting out of fear that they might cause harm if given their freedom, Schmidt's continuing detention by the State of California is particularly appalling because, at the age of 37, he is being held in juvenile custody.

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PA Court Vacates Hundreds of Juvie Convictions

Remember the Pennsylvania judges that took $2.6 millions in payoffs from private detention centers for sending kids their way?

Today the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated hundreds of the convictions, and it's not done yet.

The state Supreme Court ruled that former Luzerne County President Judge Mark Ciavarella violated the constitutional rights of youth offenders who appeared in his courtroom without lawyers between 2003 and 2008.

''Today's order is not intended to be a quick fix,'' Chief Justice Ronald Castille said in a statement. ''It's going to take some time, but the Supreme Court is committed to righting whatever wrong was perpetrated on Luzerne's juveniles and their families.''

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AZ Juvenile Pleads In Murder Case

The nine year old boy accused of murdering his father and his father's boarder has admitted the killings in juvenile court.

"Did you, on November 5 of last year, do something really dangerous or risky and, as a result, did somebody die?" Roca asked in Apache County Juvenile Court. Yes," responded the boy, who was accused of killing his father and another man.

The plea agreement is here (pdf).

As to why the DA backed off earlier plans to charge the child in adult court: [More...]

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Are 1,000 Spankings Enough to Justify a Child Killing His Abuser?

About the 8 year old in Arizona who shot and killed his father and father's boarder: First the cops wanted to try him as an adult. Then, they learned of ledgers that the kid kept of every beating, and that the kid said when it got to 1,000, he would have had enough.

Susan Mernit at Huffington Post breaks down the gruesome and mathematical tally of the beatings -- and their impact on the boy.

It's another case of powerless children in our society with nowhere to turn to. This kid is going to have a unhealthy dose of PTSD as he gets older. Who will be there for him?

Check out Susan Mernit's article on the case today at HuffPo --she's outraged at the parent who was killed. Some snippets below:

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One Murder Charge Dismissed Against 8 Year Old

On Thursday, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the murder conviction of an Arizona man who confessed his guilt to the police when he was 17 after being interrogated for twelve hours in the absence of an attorney or parent. Considering the coercive nature of the persistent questioning and the boy's age, the court decided (pdf) the confession was involuntary and should not have been used as evidence. The decision represents a victory for the Constitution as well as his appellate lawyer, Alan Dershowitz.

The principle that the police cannot induce a confession by using coercive tactics to overcome a suspect's free will is particularly significant when the suspect is a juvenile. Children are easily influenced and therefore need greater protection to assure they make a voluntary choice to respond to police questioning. What, then, were the police in Apache County, Arizona thinking when they interrogated an 8 year old about the shooting of his father without arranging the presence of an attorney or adult relative to protect the child's rights?

That blunder may explain a prosecutor's decision to dismiss one of the murder charges he had filed against the 8 year old. A second charge is still pending. [more ...]

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AZ Police Want 8 Year Old Charged as Adult for Murder

An 8 year old boy in Arizona allegedly shot and killed his father and another man yesterday. Police want him charged as an adult.

As if an 8 year old has the mental capacity to understand the act of murder? It hasn't stopped Arizona prosecutors before:

Earlier this year in Arizona, prosecutors in Cochise County filed first-degree murder charges against a 12-year-old boy accused of killing his mother.

In the 8 year old's case, there are indications he may have been abused. Others say no reports are on records. Then, there's the interrogation of the boy. [More...]

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Michigan Should Repeal Juvenile Sentences of Life Without Parole

In Michigan, more than 300 juveniles have been sentenced to life without parole. More than 300 kids thrown away. Michigan should give them a chance to earn their freedom.

Michigan's notorious juvenile lifer law has brought international shame to the state and contradicted common sense, legal traditions and public opinion. ... Bills now before the Senate Judiciary Committee would prohibit life-without-parole sentences for juveniles and give those now serving those sentences a chance at parole after 10 years.

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Wyoming, Like the Rest of the Country, Needs Juvenile Justice Reform

Beth Evans discusses a problem in Wyoming that's prevalent throughout the country. States take different approaches to juvenile justice that range from harshly punitive to restorative or rehabilitative. But even within states, different counties seem to be enforcing vastly different systems of juvenile law.

A juvenile incarcerated in Natrona County is likely to be detained for a Minor In Possession (MIP)-alcohol related offense. A child in need of supervision (CHINS) in Laramie County is apt to end up at the nearby juvenile detention center. It’s not uncommon for Sweetwater County youth to be placed in a facility outside their home county, even though the County has its own juvenile detention center. And, in Campbell County, juveniles are sentenced to an adult jail that can’t insure sight and sound separation between adult and juvenile inmates.

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It's Time to Be Smart on Juvenile Crime

A quarter century of "tough on crime" political rhetoric has in many states spilled over into the juvenile justice system, based on illogical platitudes like "commit an adult crime, do adult time." With the exception of a few status offenses like truancy, every crime is an "adult crime" in the sense that it can be committed by an adult. That's no reason to pretend that a 14 year old has the same maturity or reasoning ability (pdf) as an adult.

The "lock 'em up" strategy that prevails in our adult criminal justice system has infected the juvenile justice system, as well. Fortunately, as a New York Times editorial recognizes, there are more productive alternatives than shipping children off to juvenile (or adult) prisons where they'll be warehoused with minimal effort to rehabilitate.

One proven way to prevent borderline young offenders from becoming serious criminals is to treat them — and their families — in community-based counseling programs instead of shipping them off to juvenile facilities that are often hundreds of miles away from home. ... In addition to saving young lives, the community-based programs cost a lot less: $20,000 per child per year versus as much as $200,000 for holding a child in a juvenile facility.

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