Is Life For 13-Year-old ‘Cruel And Unusual?’


The New York Times profiles Joe Sullivan, convicted in Florida of raping a 72-year-old woman in 1989, when he was 13. A judge sentenced Sullivan to life without the possibility of parole, saying, “I'm going to send him away for as long as I can.” Sullivan is 33 now, and his lawyers have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider whether the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment extends to sentencing someone so young to die in prison for rape.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, which now represents Sullivan, there are only eight people in the world who are serving sentences of life without parole for crimes they committed when they were 13. All are in the United States. And there are only two people in that group whose crimes did not involve a killing. Both are in Florida, and both are black. Florida's attorney general, Bill McCollum, waived his right to file a response to Mr. Sullivan's petition to the Supreme Court, a sign suggesting that he considers the case insubstantial if not frivolous.

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