Supreme Court Recognizes Evolution of Justice
In 2012, the United States Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to automatically sentence children to life in prison without parole. According to that decision, Miller v. Alabama, juvenile defendants deserve a full and fair hearing to determine whether they will spend the rest their lives in prison. Nationally, the overall trend is moving away from juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences for any case.
Breakdown in Missouri
In addition to being on the unjust side of this trend away from JWLOP for any case, Missouri continues to impose unconstitutional sentences on nearly 100 men – children at the time of their cases – by never affording these people the chance for a hearing of any kind. In the nearly five years since the Supreme Court’s decision, Missouri has failed to give effect to this constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Instead of giving these prisoners the right to a fair sentencing, Missouri has given them the right to petition for a parole hearing – in Missouri, a meaningless process that the parole board itself has turned into a farce. A parole board member recently resigned after being caught playing “parole bingo” with his colleagues during hearings. Parole board members compete in “parole bingo” to see who can work predetermined words into the hearing that is supposed to determine whether a person is to regain his liberty or must continue his imprisonment. In these games, extra points are awarded for words such as “hootenanny,” “platypus,” or “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Beyond this shameful practice, our research has demonstrated that Missouri’s persistent racial injustice is a critical underlying factor in this large group of cases. African-Americans are dramatically overrepresented among those serving these unconstitutional sentences, which disproportionately arise from prosecutions in St. Louis. Court challenges must be brought on behalf of these prisoners urgently to redress this breakdown in justice.
The MacArthur Justice Center has been at the forefront of this fight in Missouri, engaging in systemic challenges forcing the state to adapt to the evolution in constitutional law. In collaboration with the Justice Center, Phillips Black is positioned to meet Missouri’s grave need for individual representation.
Fighting for Those Condemned When Children
Phillips Black has an extensive track record in fighting for adults facing execution and juveniles sentenced to die in prison. We are at the forefront of research and litigation for people condemned to die for cases prosecuted when they were minors. We seek funding to extend our JLWOP work to Missouri, one of the most resistant states to the U.S. Supreme Court’s string of recent decisions recognizing that the Constitution requires our courts to treat children differently from adults when considering imposition of the harshest punishment.
All funds raised by this campaign will go exclusively to direct legal advocacy for prisoners under JLWOP sentences and will be committed to the staffing of experienced and committed advocates to expand Phillips Black’s caseload. This work is expected to involve litigation in state and federal courts and coordination of group or class-based litigation with other leading legal services organizations. Phillips Black is a 501(c)(3) organization and donations would be tax deductible.
This effort marks the eve of the fifth anniversary of Miller v. Alabama, and Missouri’s practices demonstrate the significant work remaining to bring the promise of justice for people who were children under the age of 18 at the time of their accused crime.
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