The Court is Right: Children are 'Constitutionally Different.'

Individuals told as children that they are unworthy of ever living again in a free society have renewed hope this week because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision reaffirming its call to hold young people accountable in age-appropriate ways. Now it is up to resentencing courts and parole authorities to ensure that happens. The Supreme Court's historic ruling, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, held as retroactive its 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, which banned mandatory life without parole sentences for children. Montgomery is the fourth decision from our nation's highest court in just over a decade establishing that children are “constitutionally different” from adults, and that their child status is therefore relevant to sentencing—thereby making them less deserving of our harshest available punishments. In the 6-3 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court said, “Miller… did more than require a sentencer to consider a juvenile offender's youth before imposing life without parole; it established that the penological justifications for life without parole collapse in light of 'the distinctive attributes of youth.'” But the ruling alone does not guarantee that individuals eligible for relief will be granted their due meaningful opportunities for second chances.

A Good Week for Juvenile Justice, But the Work Isn't Done

It's been a big week for young people in the justice system. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that those previously sentenced to life without parole as juveniles must have at least a chance at life outside prison walls. And President Obama's subsequent ban, announced the same day, on solitary confinement for young people in federal prisons marks another critical acknowledgment of how we need to think about young people in prison. These recognitions—of both science and the human capacity for change—feel like justice. They are steps in the right direction.

Rethinking Criminal Intent: Why ‘Mens Rea’ Matters

In order for the government to legally prosecute, convict and punish someone, in most cases it must prove that the person committed the criminal act (known as actus reus) and that he or she committed that act with criminal intention (mens rea). There are a variety of terms used to describe mens rea, including moral blameworthiness, a guilty mind, an evil mind, conscious will, or willful action. Mens rea is a foundational element of American jurisprudence. The U.S. Supreme Court made it quite clear in 2015 in Elonis v. United States that mens rea is what distinguishes wrongful conduct from otherwise innocent conduct. It determines whom we hold criminally responsible.

‘National Consensus’ Emerging Against Juvenile Life Without Parole

Since 2012, nine states have changed their laws to abolish juvenile sentences of life without parole (JLWOP), after the United States Supreme Court held that the sentences violate the Eighth Amendment, according to a study forthcoming in the American University Law Review. Measuring the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment against “evolving standards of decency,” the authors of the study argue that the “national consensus” is moving away from this sentencing practice. The authors write that the emergence of a “superpredator myth” in the 1990s, which portrayed juvenile offenders as dangerous and remorseless, resulted in the JLWOP sentence being largely imposed on minority youth. More than one-fifth of all the JLWOP sentences nationwide are concentrated in a handful of counties (Philadelphia, Pa., Los Angeles, Calif., Orleans, La., Cook, Ill. and St.

If Your Holiday Gift is a Drone, Please Register It

One person’s fun is another person’s danger. That is especially true for drones. There’s no question that small drones serve some legitimate purposes. They can perform tasks that are dangerous for pilots of manned aircraft, such as powerline and smokestack inspections. They can film movie scenes that can’t be filmed by helicopters.

'Fairy Tales' & Drugs in America's Courtrooms

The arrest and conviction of Dennis Hardee, of Philadelphia, was nothing unusual in the annals of America's Drug War. In 2013, he was convicted of taking part in a conspiracy to rob a cocaine stash house and then sell the proceeds. As it happened, there was also nothing unusual in the fact that both the stash house and the drugs were invented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—a common tactic aimed at going after violent predators in the drug trade. What was unusual, however, was the sentence handed down in January 2015. Although Hardee could have received 30 years to life—or at the least the 10-year mandatory minimum established for convictions involving a large amount of narcotics—he actually received seven years and eight months.

Learning How To Learn (Together) From Justice Errors

Criminal justice reform is having its moment in the public square. The gatekeepers—editors, publishers, producers, bloggers, and the “most-followed” social media posters—have decided to grant criminal justice issues some attention. These media moments always fade. How can reformers exploit the opportunity this one presents? Can something useful be left behind?

'We Agree on the Bigger Issue'

The Charles Koch Institute is led by one of the richest men in the nation. Perhaps that's why its criminal justice reform summit in New Orleans this week defied conventions for gatherings of its kind. The three-day conference, called “Advancing Justice: An Agenda for Human Dignity & Public Safety,” was billed by one of its organizers as “transideological.” The two governors who spoke at the conference – Democrat Jack Markell from Delaware and Republican Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas – did not come armed with press releases about new policies that they would be implementing. Both governors talked about the progress they'd made so far in implementing criminal-justice reform in their states.

Has Jerry Brown Changed His Views On Crime?

California's governor traditionally declares his intention to sign or veto dozens of bills that have been approved by the legislature during the month of October. Jerry Brown's vetoes this year have got a lot of Californians wondering about whether their governor has changed some of his long-held views on criminal justice. Last month, for example, Gov. Brown rejected State Bill (SB) 347, which would have created a 10-year ban on weapon ownership for certain people convicted of gun-related crimes. Existing federal and state laws already restrict who may own a gun, but SB 347 would have added three offenses to that list: stealing a gun, receiving a gun as stolen property, and possessing ammunition on school grounds. While Brown's views on gun control have changed from time to time, the advocates for greater gun regulation were dismayed.

Sentencing Reform: A Page From the Old Playbook?

It has been a busy month so far for federal criminal justice reform. On October 1, the Senate unveiled the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. On October 8, the House Sentencing Reform Act was introduced. The bills share much in common and have been portrayed as “comprehensive,” “extensive,” “landmark legislation,” a “game-changer,” and “the most important federal criminal justice overhaul in a generation.” But there are many questions about the mechanics of this legislation, as well as questions about the longer-term consequences—such as their impact on federal incarceration levels, racial disparities in sentencing and, importantly, recidivism.