Our brief challenged the constitutionality of Mr. Helm’s lengthy sentence, arguing that the United States Supreme Court in Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama requires sentencing courts provide system involved youth with a second chance to participate and engage with family and community, and individualized sentencing that takes account of the youth’s distinctive and hallmark developmental attributes.
Our brief focused specifically on the young adult population—18 to 25 year olds—who make up over one third of Pennsylvania’s current death row population and whose developmental traits of immature decision-making, impetuosity, susceptibility to negative peer influences, and greater capacity for rehabilitation further underscore the overall arbitrary and disproportionate nature of Pennsylvania’s death penalty.
Our brief argued that the court violated A.W.’s constitutional rights by failing to provide notice at the time of his plea that completing sex offender treatment was a necessary condition to avoid imposition of an adult sentence and that the court violated his rights and Ohio law by imposing the adult sentence for a condition that, due to time constraints, was impossible for A.W. to meet.
Our brief argued that the court impermissibly considered B.O.J.'s gender and dependency status, in direct contradiction to Washington State statute, resulting in an inappropriate lengthy term of incarceration for very minor offenses. Our brief highlighted research demonstrating that girls, particularly girls of color and those involved in both the delinquency and dependency systems, are often punished more severely by courts, under the justification of providing treatment and protection, than their male peers for the same or more severe offenses.
We urged the court to grant review to ensure that children who experience discrimination in school can benefit from the protections of the PHRA. We argued that minority tolling is a vital protection for Pennsylvania’s children, as it is fundamentally unfair to hold children like N.B. to the same statute of limitations as adults.
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