US Supreme Court Wrongly Rejects Restrictions On Life Without Parole For Juvenile Offenders
This week, in a 6–3 decision authored by Justice Brett [don't judge me on youthful indiscretions] Kavanaugh, the US Supreme Court decided in the case of Jones v. Mississippi that judges need not determine that a juvenile convicted of a crime is incapable of being rehabilitated before sentencing them to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It is a poorly decided opinion that will join the Court's pantheon of boneheaded embarrassments. Moreover, it shows that this very conservative Court will have very little respect for judicial precedent and even less respect for decency or human rights.
The facts aren't in dispute. The juvenile defendant was Brett Jones who was charged with killing his grandfather in 2004 in Mississippi when Jones was 15 years old. The two individuals were engaged in an argument when Jones stabbed his grandfather eight times. The defendant had suffered years of abuse and had mental health issues as Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out in her scathing dissent.
Vanity Fair, Sotomayor: "Jones was “the victim of violence and neglect that he was too young to escape,” with an alcoholic biological father who abused his mother and a stepfather who abused him with “belts, switches, and a paddle” and openly declared his hatred for Jones. When, per Sotomayor, Jones moved in with his grandfather—who abused him as well—he abruptly lost access to medications he was prescribed for mental health issues, including hallucinations. In 2004, when his grandfather tried to hit him, Jones says he stabbed him in self-defense."
Jones was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, an oddly harsh sentence for a juvenile offender, especially considering his history. Moreover, the judge made no finding of "permanent incorrigibility," as was seemingly required by the landmark USSC decisions Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana.
Kavanaugh upheld the trial judge's sentence arguing that the Supreme Court had never said that a "separate factual finding of permanent incorrigibility" is always required before a sentence of life-without parole. Kavanaugh is technically correct because earlier cases involved a mandatory life sentence, but he rejects the underlying rationale for the precedent; that no juvenile should ever be sentenced to life without parole without some evidence that the individual could never be rehabilitated. To do so would be immoral and violate the 8th Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause.
There are two additional problems with Kavanaugh's opinion. The Supreme Court generally tries to find cases in which the facts will support their reasoning. However, since his conviction Jones has become a model prisoner, graduating high school, working behind bars, and studying the Bible. He seems to most observers as a rehabilitation success story. So, in selecting this case to decide, Kavanaugh and the Court's conservative majority are saying that the whole concept of rehabilitating youthful offenders is irrelevant constitutionally.
NPR: "Thursday's ruling will certainly make it more difficult for juvenile offenders like Jones to show judges they deserve another chance at freedom somewhere down the road, says Cardozo Law School's Kathryn Miller. "It's going to be much harder to convince judges" that evidence of rehabilitation is relevant, she says."
Second, who on the Court thought that having Kavanaugh write this opinion was a good idea? He is the poster child for youthful transgressions.
Vanity Fair: "In September 2018, in between screaming about his love of beer and crying over his love of calendars, Brett Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “If we want to sit here and talk about whether a Supreme Court nomination should be based on a high school yearbook page, I think that’s taken us to a new level of absurdity.” In fact, lawmakers that day weren’t deciding whether or not to confirm Kavanaugh to the highest court in the land based on “a high school yearbook page” but over credible allegations of sexual assault, which he denied. Nevertheless, Kavanaugh’s position that day was that people shouldn’t be held accountable for things they do as minors. But what he apparently actually meant was that he shouldn’t be held accountable for things he allegedly did as kid, while others deserve life in prison without the possibility of parole."
Kavanaugh's decision will be overturned in the years to come, too late to provide Jones with an opportunity to show he can live a productive life. It will be a sad reminder of criminal justice without a conscience, without humanity.
By: Don Lam & Curated Content