Marcia Coyle writing for the National Law Journal's Supreme Court Brief, the Supreme Court this morning returns to a subject that has divided it over the years: the sentencing of juveniles. The justices over time have rejected capital punishment for juvenile murderers under age 18 and more recently, they also have prohibited the mandatory imposition of life in prison without parole.
In today's case, Jones v. Mississippi, they are asked if the Eighth amendment requires courts to make a finding of "permanent incorrigibility" before sentencing juvenile offenders to life without parole. In its most recent rulings, the cases Montgomery v. Louisiana and Miller v. Alabama, the justices said the amendment “bars life without parole ... for all but the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.”
David Shapiro of Northwestern University School of Law represents Brett Jones, who was 15 when he stabbed to death his grandfather in a fight about Brett's girlfriend. "States have some discretion to craft the procedures that apply in making that essential determination" of permanent incorrigibility, Shapiro wrote in his petition. "But they cannot dispense with the finding altogether."
Mississippi, supported by the Trump administration's Justice Department, counters that the Eighth Amendment imposes no such requirement. "Instead, the Eighth Amendment requires an individualized sentencing hearing where a sentencer considers youth and its attendant characteristics before imposing a life-without-parole sentence on a juvenile homicide offender," wrote Mississippi Deputy Solicitor General Krissy Nobile.
The case has drawn more than a dozen amicus briefs. Besides the United States, Mississippi is supported in amicus briefs by the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation); Populi (Mitchell Keiter of Keiter Appellate Law in Beverly Hills); Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (Scheidegger) and 16 states (Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher).