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Friday, May 28, 2010


Only 2 in California likely to have sentences reviewed -- Los Angeles Times
California prisons hold 249 inmates sentenced to life without the
possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were juveniles, but
only two are likely to win review of their sentences following a Monday
ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, state prison officials said. Correction
officials said only three juvenile offenders in the state have been sent
away for life without parole for crimes other than murder, and one was
resentenced last year when a state appeals court came to the same conclusion
as the high court that the sentence for a youth offender constitutes cruel
and unusual punishment. A search of the California Department of Corrections
and Rehabilitation records turned up only two prisoners serving life without
the possibility of parole, or LWOPPs in the prison vernacular, for
kidnapping for ransom, one of the few state offenses a along with attempted
murder of a police officer a that can land a juvenile behind bars for life.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Joe Sullivan Age 13

'cruel and unusual' punishment for teens, court rules
By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
May 17, 2010

The justices, by a 6-3 vote, found such a sentence for a 16-year-old armed robber from Florida was unconstitutional.

The court concluded life behind bars without the chance of even being considered for possible release was not justified for those offenders who may lack full "culpability" for their actions because of their ages.

"A state need not guarantee the offender eventual release, but if it imposes a sentence of life it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

The appeal came from Terrance Graham, who was 16 and 17 when he took part in a series of violent home-invasion robberies while on parole for another felony.

The high court in 2005 said juvenile murderers cannot be executed, and Kennedy applied the same standards in this case, saying a "national consensus" had developed against life without parole sentences for those under 18 at the time of their crimes.

A state need not guarantee the offender eventual release ...
--Justice Anthony Kennedy

Child legal advocates had argued many states lack adequate resources to handle young inmates given long sentences, including a lack of proper jailhouse counseling. Few studies have been conducted on the psychological and penological effects of young defendants facing life in prison at such a young age, said the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative.

"The state has denied him any chance to later demonstrate that he is fit to rejoin society based solely on a nonhomicide crime that he committed while he was a child in the eyes of the law," Kennedy wrote. "This the Eighth Amendment does not permit."

He was supported by the court's four more liberal justices, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, who said the sentence in this case was too harsh. But in cases of juveniles "who commit nonhomicide crimes far more reprehensible than the conduct at issue here," life with parole may be acceptable, he said.

"What about Milagro Cunningham, a 17-year-old who beat and raped an 8-year-old girl before leaving her to die under 197 pounds of rock in a recycling bin in a remote landfill?" wrote Roberts. "A holding this broad [for Graham] is unnecessary because the particular conduct and circumstances at issue in the case before us are not serious enough to justify Graham's sentence."

In the Cunningham case, the girl survived, and Cunningham was convicted of attempted murder, kidnapping and sexual abuse of a minor, for the 2005 crime in Lake Worth, Florida. He also received life without parole.

In a separate case argued the same day as Graham's, the high court dismissed the appeal of Joe Sullivan, now 33 and in a wheelchair, serving a life term without the possibility of parole in a Florida prison. He was sentenced for a rape of an elderly woman committed when he was 13.

The appeal was dismissed without explanation, meaning state courts can now review it in light of the Graham case, which could mean Sullivan will have a chance of having his sentence reduced eventually.

Sullivan's attorneys said he is one of only two people in the world who was tried as an adult at such a young age and sentenced to "die in prison" for a nonhomicide.

His attorney, Bryan Stevenson, had told the court there was a racial component, claiming the majority of "juvenile lifers" are minorities. Both Graham and Sullivan are African-American.

State lawyers from Florida had argued states should have the discretion they have long been given to decide how harshly young criminals should be prosecuted. Sexual battery remains a crime punishable by life imprisonment in Florida.

Map: Juvenile life sentences
About 80 such inmates in Florida are serving life without parole, and a little over 100 nationwide, according to statistics compiled by opponents of those sentences.

In dissent to the Graham decision, Justice Clarence Thomas faulted the majority for ignoring legislative intent, saying it "simply illustrates how far beyond any cognizable constitutional principle the court has reached to ensure its own sense of morality and retributive justice pre-empts that of the people and their representatives."

He was supported by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.

A study by the Equal Justice Initiative found eight prisoners currently serving life terms for crimes committed at age 13, all in the United States.

The Justice Department reports that in the past decade, no 13-year-old has been given life without parole for nonhomicides. And while about 1,000 people every year under 15 are arrested for rape, none have been given life without parole since Sullivan.

A handful of states -- including Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Oregon -- currently prohibit sentencing minors to life without a chance for parole, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The thrust of Sullivan's and Graham's arguments before the high court was not that they are innocent, nor that they seek freedom now, just that they deserve to someday make a case before the state parole board.

Kennedy said such a request is reasonable and permitted under his reading of the Constitution.

The ruling is likely to create further challenges from other inmates who say their sentences as juveniles were excessive.

The next legal frontier could be juvenile defendants who received up to 40 years or more behind bars, yet still may be eligible for parole. They may now claim such extreme sentences also are unconstitutional.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

16 Year Old Serves Prison Time: Coerced Confession

Somnguen Michael Amphavannasouk
The case of Somnguen Michael Amphavannasouk. Using coercive methods, police extracted a false confession. As a result, Michael, still a juvenile, ended up spending a year in an adult jail charged with a crime he did not commit.
. Two Modesto police officers yanked Michael, then a 16-year old junior, from his second period class for questioning in a gang-related shooting. School officials cooperated fully with the police and did nothing to intercede on Michael’s behalf. Michael was subjected to hours of threats from the police right at his school. What took place at the school sent Michael to jail for a year.
Officers Al Brocchini and Detective Nick Chilles arrived at the high school and took Michael down to the attendance office where they interrogated him relentlessly. They wanted information on a burglary and subsequent shooting. Michael didn’t have any information for them; he claims he wasn’t there. But police kept after him, threatening and making promises throughout the entire morning.
Michael wanted the session to end. The police told him repeatedly that he would not be prosecuted as long as he cooperated with them and provided information about other gang members who were involved in the burglary and shooting. They told him that even if he was the shooter, he would not be booked. And they said that if he didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, he would be sent to jail.
Worn down and confused, Michael told them what they wanted to hear. He made a false confession. The police put words into his mouth. In reviewing the 169-page transcript, an expert on police interrogations called the statement "grossly" coercive.
Then, true to their word, the cops took him home. When he got there, Michael explained the false confession to his father. The father called the police and said that his son had lied. The police responded by returning and arresting Michael for lying. He was then charged with 11 counts of attempted murder and remained incarcerated for the next year.
During that time Michael recanted his confession. The police, using their coercive methods once again, were able to extract statements from two other youths who claimed that Michael was involved. Michael ultimately took a lie detector test which showed that he was not involved in the burglary and shooting.
When Michael was first arrested, he was placed in juvenile hall. Inmates cannot post bail to get released from juvenile hall. When it was later determined that he would be tried as an adult, he was transferred to the men’s jail and bail was posted at $250,000. This amount was too high for Michael’s family to pay. So Michael remained in jail. In order to do his best for his client, Michael’s attorney had to request a number of delays of court appearances and Michael remained in jail.
Finally after Michael had passed two polygraph tests and repeatedly denied that he was involved, a deputy district attorney asked the Superior Court to dismiss the charges for lack of evidence.
Michael is now free. But I cannot imagine what spending a year in an adult jail for a crime he did not commit has done to someone so young. Not only was Michael unfairly punished, police focus on the wrong boy let the real perpetrator to go free
http://www.sonomaco untyfreepress. com/police/ mistreatment- of-youth. html