An attorney for a Black man serving a life sentence for a crime he committed at 17 suggested to the Supreme Court that his sentencing was tainted with racial bias, according to The Associated Press. The leniency white juvenile defendants were granted failed to reach Black defendants as well, they said.
Tonelli Anderson, now 45, was sentenced to 61 years in a shooting during a drug robbery that left one woman dead and another one blind, the report says. He requested a new sentence hearing in 2018 but the judge gave him the same term. Last month, Anderson’s request for new sentencing was struck down again. Justice Debra Stephens said he’d only be exempt from a life sentence as a juvenile if his crime “reflected youthful immaturity, impetuosity, or failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” which she believes it did not.
However, Anderson’s attorney, Travis Stearns, insists that murder cases involving white juveniles are granted more grace.
Read a few examples from AP News:
In 2018, the justices held that it violated the state Constitution to sentence 16- or 17-year-olds to life in prison without parole. That ruling came in the case of Brian Bassett, a white man who killed his parents and brother when he was 16. Bassett has since been resentenced to 28 years.
Last September, the court struck down a 46-year sentence for Timothy Haag, a white man who was 17 when he drowned his 7-year-old neighbor. In that case, a six-justice majority held that juvenile murder defendants must be given “a meaningful opportunity to rejoin society after leaving prison.”
Some states have statutes barring life sentences or adult sentencing for juveniles. Though, it is evident within the history of our criminal justice system that young Black defendants are given exaggerated sentences for the same, if not, similar crimes to that of a young white defendant.
Justice Mary Yu dissented, saying it would be “willfully oblivious” to assume racial bias had no role in the decision. According to The Children’s Defense Fund, Black kids account for more than half of all kids prosecuted in adult criminal court. Plus, they are nine times more likely to receive an adult sentence than white kids.
It’s not really about whether “youthfulness” played a role in someone’s crimes. It’s really just about what they look like and most of the time, it’s about the color of their skin.