For the second time in recent years, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit law firm founded and headed by Professor of Clinical Law Bryan Stevenson, has landed the issue of life without parole (LWOP) on Supreme Court’s docket. On November 5, the court agreed to hear two EJI cases challenging the constitutionality of LWOP for defendants who were minors at the time of the crime. In 2009, Stevenson argued one of two joined cases that resulted in a ruling by the Supreme Court in Graham v. Florida that LWOP violates the 8th Amendment when imposed upon a minor who was below the age of 18 at the time of the crime, at least in cases that don’t involve killings.
The two new cases, Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, raise the question of whether Graham should be extended to homicide cases when the defendants were (as in these cases) 14 years old at the time of the crime. And, as Adam Liptak noted in the New York Times, the two cases “might also allow the court to draw a further distinction -- between offenders who participated in crimes that led to killings and those who actually committed the killings.” Vice Dean and Professor of Clinical Law Randy Hertz, who is a member of EJI's board, said, "For the past five years, Bryan and the lawyers at EJI have been litigating throughout the U.S. on behalf of children to challenge draconian sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. They have combined highly effective litigation with research and advocacy to produce remarkable reforms.These new cases present the next challenge and the next opportunity.”
Oral argument will likely take place in late February or early March.
Posted on November 14, 2011