18 October 2007

Juvie Lifers

In December, the United Nations took up a resolution calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with the United States the lone dissenter.

Indeed, the United States stands alone in the world in convicting young adolescents as adults and sentencing them to live out their lives in prison. . . .

59 percent of the more than 2,200 prisoners serving life without parole for crimes they committed at 17 or younger had never been convicted of a previous crime. And 26 percent were in for felony murder, meaning they participated in a crime that led to a murder but did not themselves kill anyone. . . .

[There are] 73 juvenile lifers in 19 states who were 13 and 14 when they committed their crimes. Pennsylvania has the most, with 19, and Florida is next, with 15. In those states and Illinois, Nebraska, North Carolina and Washington, 13-year-olds have been sentenced to die in prison. In most of the cases, the sentences were mandatory, an automatic consequence of a murder conviction after being tried as an adult.

From the New York Times via the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog.

Colorado has many juveniles serving life in prison without parole, although Colorado's criminal statutes have been amended to allow parole after 40 years for juveniles newly convicted, and Governor Ritter has convened a new advisory pardon panel to consider cases like theirs. My understanding is that none of the juvenile lifers in Colorado were age 13 or 14 when their crimes were committed. But, many are non-triggerman felony murder convicts.

One can fairly say that the United States is at its nadir when it comes to human rights on many fronts, although the process by which accused defendants are found to be guilty or innocent, while not flawless, is superior to that in much of the world.

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