START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x
783,047 people care about Civil Rights

Sentenced to Die in Prison at Age 13. Constitutional?

Sentenced to Die in Prison at Age 13.  Constitutional?

At 13, the remainder of Joe Sullivan’s life came to a standstill as a judge in Pensacola, Florida sentenced the severely mentally disabled boy to life in prison without the possibility of parole as punishment for the rape of 72-year-old woman. Joe admitted he and some friends burglarized the woman’s house earlier in the day, but denied that he had returned later to rape the woman. In a trial that lasted only one day, the accuser was unable to identify her assailant and DNA evidence from the crime was never admitted. Joe Sullivan’s lawyer made no opening statement, barely made a closing argument, and was later suspended from the Florida Bar. Despite the denials and lack of hard evidence connecting Joe Sullivan to the rape, at 13 he was sentenced to die in prison.

Troubling as this case is, there are more like it.

The Equal Justice Initiative has asked the United States Supreme Court to review Mr. Sullivan’s case and determine whether sentencing someone who was barely a teenager at the time of the crime to die in prison for a crime that did not involve a killing satisfies the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. According to papers filed by EJI on Mr. Sullivan’s behalf, only eight people in the world are serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed when they were 13. Every one of those cases exists in the United States. Every single one of those offenders condemned to die in prison for a crime not involving a death is a person of color.

Mr. Sullivan’s requests represents a natural evolution of juvenile jurisprudence. In 2005 the Court in 2005 Roper v. Simmons struck down the death penalty for crimes committed by 16 and 17 year olds. Just last year, the Court held that death sentences for crimes that did not involve killings were unconstitutional.

Capital cases naturally receive extra attention, both by the courts and the press, but little if any scrutiny gets paid to those thousands upon thousands of juveniles sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed when they were just 13 or 14. Mountains of evidence show that young men and women are easy targets for physical or sexual assault in adult correctional facilities.

EJI has launched a litigation campaign to challenge the sentences of 13 and 14 year olds in eight states.

Every one of those challenges tells a history of poverty, violence, substance abuse and neglect. Each client suffered from a lack of competent legal help. Hopefully the Supreme Court hears Mr. Sullivan and EJI’s challenge to the practice of sentencing juvenile offenders to die in prison for crimes committed when just 13 or 14. Thoughtlessly surrendering these children to the adult criminal justice system goes against every vein of fundamental decency and fairness our Constitutional system embraces.

Read more: , , , ,

have you shared this story yet?

some of the best people we know are doing it

62 comments

+ add your own
6:48PM PDT on May 21, 2010

yikes! that's horrible. what did the 72- yr old lady have to say about this?

1:59PM PDT on Mar 12, 2009

It would be interesting to me to see how different countries deal with serious crimes committed by minors. Even if Sullivan was guilty (which it doesn't seem as though he would have been found guilty if he had had a competent lawyer) how many would feel he should have been treated as a juvenile anyway. I wonder how long ago he would have been tried as one, and sent to a juvenile facility until he turned 18 or 21, then released to his parents? Why this country of mine is treating children as adults when their brains are not yet developed enough to think like an adult I will never understand or agree with. I wish this country were far more involved in preventing our young from committing crimes in the first place than to see how harshly they can sentence them and get away with it.

11:02AM PST on Feb 28, 2009

As a member of the judiciary system in the UK, I can be pretty sure that no judge would send anyone to proson without corroborating evidence. Certainly this should have been overturned on the basis that the lawyer in question failed to do her job prejudicing her client. On would also ask why there was no adult standing in during the police interview to ensure his rights both as a minor and as a vulnerable person. As for the breach of this person's human rights, I won't even start that track! This boy has been abused and misused by the very system designed to protect him. All Allied soldiers from both World Wars must be spinning in their graves at this injustice.

9:26PM PST on Feb 24, 2009

It is imoral and unethical to convict a mentally retarded individual. There are laws that protect this youngster from this type of treatment. I believe the parents should be held accountable for what happens when their underage children commit crimes. The children should be held accountable for their behavior but this case is not new nor is it unusual. Many children who are classified as mentally ill or retarded are sent to prison for life. This case seems to have been one that no one cared about. The boy was not given his due process rights when DNA was not submitted.

8:54AM PST on Feb 18, 2009

I do not know all the factors of this case to make a judgement. Yes, there are a lot of people that have not committed crimes and are unjustly punished. However, even if the punishment was harsh (and I am not saying he should die) but he did commit a crime of burglary. Even though I disagree with him getting the death sentence, the boy should be punished with some sort of sentence. Yet, I haven't seen the dispositions or all the facts in this case as to why the judge/jury decided to sentence him to death. Either way it is sad. Parents will lose a son, a grandmother no longer feels safe in her home or her bed. I think one thing this shows is the system is totally flawed and if you are going to be accused of something - you better have a good lawyer because that is what can save you, not evidence or the truth.

6:17AM PST on Feb 17, 2009

The DNA evidence is the most important of all! What's going on? Perhaps if parents were made answerable for their children who were still in their idiot adolescence this wouldn't happen.
I have a spooky feeling his parents think he is going to the right place for them.

9:38PM PST on Feb 14, 2009

This type of cruelty has gone on for many years. There are lots of people in prison who have been in prison since they were children my husband is one of them. Support the John Greschner Defense Committee on care 2 and my space. Namaste! Roxanne Greschner

11:14PM PST on Feb 13, 2009

I just can't believe this. What kind of society is this? I have often thought the American justice system to be cruel and unjust in many areas, but this is unbelievable. It is not so unlike the way kids can be treated in Iran and other places. A child is not a criminal in the same way as a hardened adult can be, and besides this are often victims of their own environmental influences etc and lack of proper care and support.. Here in England things are changing too. Children can be punished by the courts just for being children and doing what kids do. How long before such extremes are used here.
This is extremely cruel. IS YOUR NEW PRESIDENT AWARE OF THIS CRAZINESS. I DOUBT HE SUPPORTS IT. He doesn't support Guantanemo Bay. CHILDREN CAN'T DEFEND THEMSELVES. Madness! Unbelievable Madness! I hope and pray that this will be rectified and that young joe sullivan will be treated with much more kindness than this.I hope that lawyer never gets another job again. how many other people has he failed? And the Judge!!!! Why are such people allowed to be in a position to cast such judgements? What kind of place has America become, and what kind of message is this sending to other countries.

11:01PM PST on Feb 13, 2009

I just can't believe this. What kind of society is this? I have often thought the American justice system to be cruel and unjust in many areas, but this is unbelievable. It is not so unlike the way kids can be treated in Iran and other places. A child is not a criminal in the same way as a hardened adult can be, and besides this are often victims of their own environmental influences etc and lack of proper care and support.. Here in England things are changing too. Children can be punished by the courts just for being children and doing what kids do. How long before such extremes are used here.
This is extremely cruel. IS YOUR NEW PRESIDENT AWARE OF THIS CRAZINESS. I DOUBT HE SUPPORTS IT. He doesn't support Guantanemo Bay. CHILDREN CAN'T DEFEND THEMSELVES. Madness! Unbelievable Madness! I hope and pray that this will be rectified and that young joe sullivan will be treated with much more kindness than this.I hope that lawyer never gets another job again. how many other people has he failed? And the Judge!!!! Why are such people allowed to be in a position to cast such judgements? What kind of place has America become, and what kind of message is this sending to other countries.

5:33AM PST on Feb 13, 2009

Exactly, what can we do? Isn't there some kind of process we can start?

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

ads keep care2 free

Recent Comments from Causes

Hi Michael & Rainbow! I sent PMs to both of you yesterday. Just wanted to let you know here because…

I have some reservations about the gist of this article. I kind of doubt that these women just decided,…

All I can say is I'm glad I never had to walk in her shoes I wish her Good Luck

Story idea? Want to blog? Contact the editors!
ads keep care2 free



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.