The Fair Punishment Project has filed an Amicus Brief in People of the State of Michigan v. Skinner on behalf of Tia Marie-Mitchell Skinner, who is challenging the life without parole sentence she received for an offense committed when she was a juvenile. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, said that life without parole sentences for juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution “for all but the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.” While Miller v. Alabama initially created the rule banning life without parole sentences imposed without consideration of a juvenile’s individual character, capacity for change, and other crucial factors, the Montgomery case applied Miller retroactively to all individuals who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole sentences.
The Fair Punishment Project agrees with Ms. Skinner that, because the individualized consideration Miller requires is used to decide whether one of the most severe punishments available to the legal system may be imposed, Ring v. Arizona and the Sixth Amendment require that a jury make that decision. The brief goes on to point out that social science strongly suggests that juries are most qualified to make judgments about the culpability of young people convicted of crimes. For these reasons, Ms. Mitchell should be resentenced, allowing her a meaningful opportunity for release.
FPP has filed amicus briefs in two other states arguing that juveniles previously sentenced to life without parole are entitled to a meaningful opportunity for release.
Sopal Phon argues, and FPP agrees, that under both the US Constitution and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, life without parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. Such sentences violate evolving norms against severe punishment for children. They serve no legitimate penological purpose when imposed on juveniles, who are categorically less culpable than adults convicted of the same offenses. Finally, the determination of “irreparable corruption” in any particular case is too fraught to be the basis of such an extreme punishment.
Similarly, in the case of Albert Bell, who was sentenced to life without parole at age 16, FPP argues that it is time to follow the reasoning of Miller v. Alabama to its logical conclusion and categorically prohibit life without parole sentences for all juveniles.
Last month, FPP along with the Resentencing Project filed an amicus brief in Florida on behalf of Kenneth Purdy. Purdy was given two life without parole sentences along with two 100+ year sentences that were to run concurrently with each other, but after the life sentences. The brief argues that in order to comport with the Eighth Amendment, when a juvenile is given an aggregate sentence such as this, the court must consider each individual sentence in determining whether the juvenile may have a meaningful opportunity for release. This consideration must occur at the initial sentencing, the brief argues, as well upon later judicial review as provided for in Florida’s post-Miller juvenile sentencing scheme.