A decision by the Illinois Supreme Court to uphold a 130-year prison sentence given a 16 year old for rape and murder charges has raised concerns among legal scholars, reports Southernminn.com
The 6-1 decision in Illinois Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling saying that Ashanti Lusby’s charges were unconstitutional because he was a juvenile at the time of his sentencing.
Lusby, now 41 years old, was asking the court to grant him permission to file a petition against his life sentence, which he claimed was unconstitutional under Miller v Alabama and Montgomery v Louisiana.
The two Supreme Court cases in question were landmark juvenile justice cases, ruling that life sentences were generally considered cruel and unusual punishment but that they could be given only if “age and youth factors” were considered in the ruling.
But the Illinois justices felt that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings were not violated in Lusby’s 2002 hearing.
Justice P.Scott Neville was the only justice who opposed the majority ruling.
In his dissenting opinion he wrote that Lusby had great potential for rehabilitation, saying “we cannot lose sight of the fact that juveniles are different from adults due to a juvenile’s lack of maturity, underdeveloped sense of responsibility, vulnerability to peer pressure, and the less fixed nature of the juvenile’s character.”
Lusby’s life sentence is de-facto, meaning that he was given a sentence long enough that he’ll die before being able to be released.
Juvenile justice advocates greatly opposed Lusby’s case and those like it, claiming that juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole shouldn’t be allowed, no matter the crime.
“No one’s saying that we shouldn’t hold people accountable for their actions, even young people,” said Shobha L. Mahadev, a clinical professor at Northwestern University.
“The question is whether or not we can do so in a comprehensive way that accounts for their youth. And there are individuals, like Mr. Lusby, who have been left behind, both by cases and by legislation.
“I think it is appropriate and timely to address that.”
Illinois, like many other states, has moved forward on a number of youth justice reforms.
In 2010, the state raised the minimum age for adult jurisdiction from 16 to 17, and last year amended a state law to allow juvenile offenders the opportunity for parole after serving 10 to 20 years.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 29 states in the U.S. have implemented laws preventing juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison without parole, even in the case of homicide.
Illinois is not one of them.
“Even when convicted of murder, the Court said, judges must be allowed to take a juvenile’s age into account (along with other relevant circumstances) in deciding the appropriate punishment,” reported the ACLU website.
Appropriate times for juvenile sentences without parole would be rare, the website said.
The Sentencing Project further cited Supreme Court cases such as Roper v Simmons and Graham v Florida as cases that should protect the rights of juvenile offenders.
In 2012, the Sentencing Project found that juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole were victim to various outside factors that could affect their choices.
Survey data found that 79 percent “witnessed violence in their homes regularly,” less than half were attending school when they committed their offense, and 47 percent claimed that they had been physically abused.
These choices are considered to be essential in deciding a juvenile offender’s sentence
Data from the Sentencing Project also shows that giving juveniles life without parole sentences is extremely costly, citing that a 50-year sentence given to a 16-year-old would cost about $2.25 million.
This cost would be doubled for Lusby.
For more information on juvenile justice reform in America, sign up for the webinar series on youth justice reform. For more information on how to register, contact email@example.com.
Emily Riley is a TCR justice reporting intern.