Juvenile Justice

  • October 29, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Charles Ogletree, Jesse Climenko Professor of Law & Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at is Harvard Law School. Ogletree submitted an Amicus brief in support of Petitioners with the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

    The United States Supreme Court will hold oral arguments on November 9 in two cases, Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida, which will determine whether it is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to sentence an adolescent who committed a non-homicide offense to life in prison with no opportunity for release.

    Petitioners Joe Sullivan and Terrance Graham were both sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for offenses that did not involve homicide in Florida. Sullivan was 13 years old when he was sentenced to spend the remainder of his natural life in prison. Graham received life without parole for a parole violation at 17 years old. He was sentenced without a trial.

    Sullivan and Graham present an opportunity for the Court to affirm the reasoning put forth in Roper v. Simmons, which struck down capital punishment for juveniles. Roper established what every parent knows and what science confirms: adolescents are fundamentally different from adults in maturity and judgment.

  • October 20, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Maj. (Ret.) Eric Montalvo, Esq., Founding Partner, The Federal Practice Group Worldwide Service, and former Marine Corps Judge Advocate (JAG). Eric currently specializes in national security law and military law. He is noteworthy for his work in securing the release of Mohammad Jawad, one of the youngest Guantanamo Bay detainees.


    Imagine for the moment you are walking along a sidewalk and suddenly you hear and feel an explosion. As you run for your life someone tackles you and gives you over to the police. Within hours you are hooded and handed over to a foreign power and a month later put on a plane to somewhere. The foreign power who has detained you continues to make allegations that you were somehow involved in the explosion which you repeatedly deny. The foreign power "invents" a legal process which is found to be inadequate, the second version is found inadequate as well, and they are now working on a third version. The judges, prosecutors, and most defense counsel have no experience as it relates to national security litigation and capital punishment. You are introduced and assigned to military defense counsels who wear the same uniform as the prosecutors. Men, some of whom may be totally innocent, awake every day to this indefinite detention. This is the reality of the Military Commissions system for detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

    Trial by the Military Commissions does not present defendants with a meaningful opportunity to challenge the bases of their detention. Even a determination by the Commission that it does not have personal jurisdiction over a defendant, or, after trial, that the defendant should be acquitted, does not have a binding effect. The Bush Administration policy maintained a policy of indefinite detention regardless of the outcome as described by the Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell whereby he stated at a news conference, "even if he [the detainee] were acquitted of the charges that are before him, he would still be considered an enemy combatant and therefore would continue to be subjected to-subject to continued detention." It is a policy that is currently being followed by the Obama Administration and, in the meanwhile, detainees are held with no hope of release.

    The primary purpose of drafting the Constitution was to limit government power. The Due Process guarantees found in the Bill of Rights were meant to empower individuals against arbitrary government action. This is a bedrock principle of American jurisprudence and is being completely ignored as a policy concern in relation to Guantanamo detainees.

  • August 19, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Maha Jweied, Senior Attorney-Advisor, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; former law clerk, Appeals Chamber, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; 2009-2011, Young Lawyers Division Liaison, ABA Section of International Law; 2009 ACS Public Interest Fellow. The views expressed below are those of the author alone.
    I had the extraordinary opportunity of working on a juvenile death penalty case when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional in the 2005 decision of Roper v. Simmons. With our client's 28th birthday just days away, there was no better gift than to let him know that as a result of this decision, his life would be spared. We felt victorious-although it was clear that the luck of timing had more to do with the good outcome than our lawyering skills.

    While over four years have passed since that fateful day, the case remains meaningful to me for many reasons, not least of which was the opportunity to work with colleagues dedicated to securing justice for our client. But the case was also meaningful because our client was spared in good measure due to international law. In reaching its decision, the Court reviewed the status of the juvenile death penalty in other nations and stated that "[i]t is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty." As a student of U.S. civil rights law and public international law, I always knew that these two areas of law were interrelated. But I had not anticipated that a case with facts which were purely domestic in nature-a criminal case in rural Alabama-would be directly affected by a consideration of international state practice. I felt proud of the U.S. legal system and thought back to my classmates in London, where I studied public international law, and their criticism of the theory of American exceptionalism. Surely, their criticisms had to be checked. But of course, a countervailing set of criticisms from domestic jurists immediately surfaced. These criticisms-which appeared more like xenophobia than American exceptionalism-gave me pause. How could looking outward and considering other countries' practices be considered a weakness when we pride ourselves in being a country of immigrants?

  • June 15, 2009
    Guest Post


    By Kamala Harris, San Francisco District Attorney

    States across our country are facing budget deficits. California is projected to begin next fiscal year with a deficit of nearly 25 billion dollars, equaling one fourth of the state's entire general fund. Over 10 billion of that general fund supports corrections and law enforcement. In this fiscal crisis, there is no denying the facts: tough budget times are here for public safety agencies. As the District Attorney for the City and County of San Francisco, I am personally familiar with the difficult circumstances we face. Without a significant shift in local and state practices, we can predict that shrinking law enforcement and corrections funding will result in higher crime rates, less support for victims, and fewer offenders being held accountable. If ever there was a time to think outside the box and break with the failed approaches of the past, the time is now. We need to do something different.

    In San Francisco, I have developed a smart on crime approach: we must be tough on serious and violent offenders while we get just as tough on the root causes of crime. In my office, we have raised felony conviction rates and sent more violent offenders to state prison, at the same time we have launched innovative, cost effective approaches to reduce recidivism, truancy, and childhood trauma. With a genuine investment in breaking cycles of crime, we can improve public safety at the same time that we save precious public resources.

    Reentry: Why it Matters to Law Enforcement

    Over the last thirty years, our prison population has soared. In 1980, California had a prison population of about 24,000 in a state of 24 million. Today we have an inmate population of 172,000 out of 36 million people. This means that since 1980, our population has grown by 50 % while our prison population has grown 617%.

    Today, the majority of those inmates are not first-time offenders. Each year, approximately 70 percent of those released from California prisons commit another offense, resulting in the highest recidivism rate in the nation. These repeat offenses are preventable crimes that claim more victims and harm communities' quality of life. It costs an estimated $10,000 to prosecute just one felony case, and about $47,000 per year to house just one inmate in prison. Every time an inmate is released and commits a new crime, local and state jurisdictions pay those costs over and over again. To keep our communities safe and use public money wisely, we must ensure that people coming out of the criminal justice system become productive citizens and stay out.