In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that giving juveniles mandatory life sentences without parole was a violation of the Eighth Amendment. In 2016 a Supreme Court decision made the 2012 ruling apply retroactively, yet the state of Louisiana continues to push back and fight against giving juvenile offenders an opportunity at parole.
The Times-Picayune reports that according to the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, prosecutors in the state are trying to block too many juvenile murderers from having a chance at parole—which means the state may not be in compliance with the high court ruling.
Louisiana district attorneys have tried to block, or have already successfully blocked, about one-third of the juvenile murderers who meet the state’s requirement of having served 25 years and completed educational programming to qualify for parole.
According to the Supreme Court, only juveniles who are considered “the worst of the worst” and incapable of being rehabilitated should be sentenced to life without parole—and those should be rare cases. Based on that, Jill Pasquarella—who is an attorney for the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights—told Nola.com that it is unreasonable to think a third of all juvenile lifers in the state would meet the Supreme Court’s definition of “worst of the worst.”
Because prosecutors have challenged the parole eligibility of so many juvenile lifers, Pasquarella said that the state will be headed back to court—which will cost the already cash-strapped state hundreds of thousands of more dollars. In addition to the cost of funding a second defense of the state law, in some cases, the state will have to pay the lawyers that represent the juvenile lifers in these cases.
Pete Adams is the executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, and he acknowledges that the state is probably headed back to court, but he says the Supreme Court needs to add more clarity to what “worst of the worst” means with regards to juvenile lifers.
“Eventually the U.S. Supreme Court will say what’s acceptable and what’s not,” Adams told Nola.com. “If the U.S. Supreme Court says no one can get life without parole or who can’t get it, we will abide by that.”
Interestingly enough, when the Supreme Court did make its ruling in 2012, Louisiana answered that by creating a law that only gave access to parole to juvenile lifers who had been sentenced after 2012—not those who were already in prison at that time. A juvenile lifer challenged the Louisiana law, and in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the state clarification and said it needed to give juvenile lifers who were already locked up a chance at parole as well.
In response to that, during the 2017 legislative session, the Louisiana law was rewritten so that beginning this month (November), juvenile lifers who have served 25 years and meet other requirements, such as obtaining a high school diploma equivalent, would have a shot at parole. The new law leaves room for prosecutors to challenge any juvenile lifer’s access to parole through a special hearing.
The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, run by Leon Cannizzarro, has reviewed the cases of 64 juveniles serving life for murder—more than any other district attorney in the state. The office has filed motions to block 32 of those cases from parole eligibility.
Those 32 cases count in the number that makes up the one-third of the total cases in the state in which the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights says state prosecutors are seeking to challenge parole access.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge)—who sponsored this year’s revised juvenile lifer legislation—conceded that the state’s numbers don’t look good when it comes to the Supreme Court ruling.
“I would have to agree—if those numbers are correct—it probably does not fit within the rails of what the Supreme Court has said,” Claitor said. “I just think it is a little premature until we have good solid numbers out there.”
Read more at the Times-Picayune.