Major Victory for Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project Clinic

April 16, 2013

Sarah Staudt, Class of 2013, provides this update on a major victory in the clinic’s work on juvenile life-without-parole sentences:

The Criminal & Juvenile Justice Project received word over Spring Break of a major victory in one of our cases. One of our clients, M., is currently serving a life sentence in prison, without parole, for a crime he committed when he was 14 years old. M. had never finished the 6th grade. He was, by all accounts, an angry and lost young teenager when he made a terrible mistake. However, M. received this sentence through a mandatory sentencing scheme: his original attorneys never got the chance to argue and the trial judge could not consider that the punishment was disproportionately severe because of M.’s age.

The United States Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama declared mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles unconstitutional in June 2012, explaining that “hallmark features of youth” like impulsiveness and incomplete brain development, have a major impact on the culpability of teenagers for the crimes they commit. Even if these teenagers are tried in adult court, they must be given an opportunity to present evidence about their age and how it might have contributed to the circumstances that led to their criminal behavior. The court didn’t make clear, however, whether this rule also applied retrospectively; that