Juvenile Law Center, the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project and DLA Piper filed a King’s Bench Petition in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of all Pennsylvania youth currently held in juvenile detention centers, county jails, or longer term correctional or residential placements during the COVID-19 crisis.
Our letter urged the court to allow the appeal because, despite a plea of guilty, children retain the right to appeal amenability proceedings for three reasons: (1) a child is not an adult criminal defendant, (2) an amenability proceeding is uniquely important and cannot be “bargained away,” and (3) a sentencing judge lacks jurisdiction to sentence a child as an adult barring a legal amenability hearing.
Amici argued that students need access to federal courts to vindicate their constitutional rights because appeals to the school board do not afford the same protections as federal litigation and federal courts must have power to review unconstitutionally vague school disciplinary provisions that violate students' rights to freedom of expression, due press, and equal protection.
Our brief argued that the U.S. Supreme Court's requirement for a meaningful opportunity for release creates an identifiable liberty interest in parole for all juvenile offenders, and the Due Process Clause requires procedural protections, including the appointment of counsel in parole hearings, when such a liberty interest is at stake.
Our brief argued that the imposition of a mandatory life sentence on an 18-year-old violates the Eighth Amendment because young adults possess the same relevant characteristics as youth under 18 and courts post-Miller have consistently found older adolescents and young adults less deserving of the harshest penalties.
We argued that People v. Skinner misinterprets the constitutional mandates of Miller and Montgomery which establish a presumption against imposing life without parole sentences on youth and places the burden on the prosecution to establish that an individual is among the rare irreparably corrupt juvenile offenders for whom rehabilitation is impossible.
We argued that given youths’ general inability to pay bail, the risk of coerced guilty pleas, and the heightened danger of pretrial detention for youth, youth should receive a presumption of indigence to secure pretrial release.
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