On what issue are Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria more humane than the U.S. and the state of New Hampshire? These countries don’t sentence children to life in prison without the possibility of parole (“JLWOP”). In fact, no person is known to be serving a JLWOP sentence anywhere in the world other than in the U.S. Today (May 12, 2014), the NHCLU filed a “friend-of-the court” brief on behalf of itself, six other organizations, and four professors at the University of New Hampshire School of Law asking the New Hampshire Supreme Court to end this cruel and unusual practice in New Hampshire.
Watch this powerful video and learn more below about how the ACLU is fighting to protect children from this shameful practice.
In the U.S. each year, children as young as 13 are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison without any opportunity for release. To date, approximately 2,570 children have been sentenced to JLWOP in the U.S. Despite the global consensus that children cannot be held to the same standards of responsibility as adults and recognition that children are entitled to special protection and treatment, the U.S. continues to allow children to be treated and punished as adults. The U.S. is the only country in the world that engages in this inhumane practice.
Unfortunately, this practice exists in New Hampshire, and there are currently four New Hampshire individuals who have received JLWOP sentences for crimes they committed when they were children.
But in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. __, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), struck down state regimes (like the one in New Hampshire) mandating a JLWOP sentence for children convicted of first-degree murder, concluding that this practice violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” Relying “not only on common sense—on what ‘any parent knows’—but on science and social science as well,” the Court recognized that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.” Indeed, scientific research has demonstrated the substantial differences between juvenile and adult minds, as well as the fact that juveniles have greater immaturity, vulnerability, and changeability than adults.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller stopped short of categorically finding all JLWOP sentences unconstitutional, instead concluding that this sentence could be imposed in New Hampshire and elsewhere if the sentencing judge gives meaningful consideration of (i) more lenient sentencing alternatives and (ii) the essential, mitigating fact of the defendant’s youth.
In our amicus brief, we argue two points. First, we contend that the Miller decision applies retroactively to the four New Hampshire children who were sentenced to JLWOP prior to the issuance of the Miller decision. Second, we argue that, as a categorical matter, JLWOP sentences violate Part I, Article 33 of the New Hampshire Constitution, which bans “cruel or unusual punishments.” Here’s what we say in our brief:
“[T]his Court should … conclude that … [a] trial court cannot issue a sentence of life without parole under Article 33 of the New Hampshire Constitution. The world has recognized the cruelty of juvenile life-without-parole sentences, which is precisely the reason the sentence has been extinguished worldwide. By any measure, the challenged punishment does not comport with human dignity. It is degrading, unacceptable in contemporary society, and excessive. There are reasons why, as a community, we hurt deeper and mourn harder for the death of a child. Life-without-parole sentences functionally take the lives of children before they have had a chance to change and grow into responsible adults. This is why Article 33 mandates the abolition of such sentences in New Hampshire.”
The case will be argued by the parties before the N.H. Supreme Court this summer.