JLC Files Amicus Brief on LWOP Case

The Juvenile Law Center has filed an amicus brief in Massachusetts in support of Patrick Powell, a 16-year-old charged with murder, who is facing a mandatory, unreviewable sentence of life without parole.

Powell and two other boys allegedly stabbed 21-year-old victim Daniel Columbo to death on January 6, 2006. As JLC notes in a brief prefatory note, “In Massachusetts, the juvenile court statutorily lacks jurisdiction over indictments charging murder when the accused is fourteen years of age or older. This jurisdictional requirement places Powell in the adult criminal system, thereby subjecting him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the harshest penalty available in Massachusetts, if convicted.”

On January 16, Powell’s lawyer argued that the LWOP sentence would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, claiming that Powell’s “cognitive immaturity” makes him less responsible than adult offenders committing the same crime. According to the local Milford Daily News, attorney John G. Swomley “called his pretrial motion a ‘brand new’ kind of legal argument based on new neuroscientific research, asking Judge Kathe Tuttman to hear expert testimony during an upcoming hearing on evidence.”

The Juvenile Law Center has added its voice, too, filing this friend-of-the-court brief. The summary of argument reads:

In forbidding the execution of offenders under the age of eighteen, the United States Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) held that it was a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a juvenile as one would an adult. The Court struck the juvenile death penalty because juveniles do not have the same judgment, understanding, maturation and abilities as adults. These developmental characteristics of young offenders likewise support Patrick Powell’s challenge here to a mandatory, unreviewable sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. As the Kentucky Court of Appeals explained in finding a juvenile sentence of life without parole unconstitutional, “We believe that incorrigibility is inconsistent with youth; that it is impossible to make a judgment that a fourteen-year-old youth, no matter how bad, will remain incorrigible for the rest of his life.” Workman v. Commonwealth, 429 S.W.2d 374, 378 (Ky. Ct. App. 1968).

In addition, a juvenile sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”) violates the Massachusetts Constitution’s prohibition against cruel punishment. Massachusetts has a long and proud tradition of according juveniles greater protections than adults. The current sentencing scheme, however, prohibits the court from considering any mitigating factors for youth, including age, as it does for adults. This bar on considering any mitigating or individualizing factors contravenes Simmons as well as the due process clause of the United States and Massachusetts Constitutions. Finally, binding international law, and the law and practice of other nations provide overwhelming evidence of worldwide consensus against LWOP sentences for youth.

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