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Vigilance in the Defense of Liberty and Freedom
Monday, May 17, 2010
LDF Friend of the Court Brief Cited in Court’s Opinion
“Today the Supreme Court recognized that children convicted of non-homicide crimes have the potential to become contributing members of society and that certain life sentences run afoul of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment,” said John Payton, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), along with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice (CHHIRJ) filed a friend of the court brief challenging the constitutionality of juvenile life without parole sentences. In declaring these sentences unconstitutional, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority of the Court, noted that LDF’s brief properly identified the “special difficulties encountered by counsel in juvenile representation” and that “the features that distinguish juveniles from adults put them at a significant disadvantage in criminal proceedings. [Specifically,] [j]uveniles mistrust adults and have limited understandings of the criminal justice system and the roles of the institutional actors within it. They are less likely than adults to work effectively with their lawyers to aid in their defense.” LDF’s brief also noted the stark racial disparities in juvenile life without parole sentencing -- African-Americans constitute 60% of the youth serving such sentences.