Some State Laws Slow Resentencings Despite Miller v. Alabama Decision

While the man behind the landmark decision that ended mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles waits for a new sentence, other inmates given the same term are getting a shot at eventual freedom.

Evan Miller went back before a judge in his hometown of Moulton, Alabama, for a three-day resentencing hearing March 13. Lawrence County Circuit Judge Mark Craig’s decision is still pending.

But the Supreme Court ruling that bears Miller’s name is already bearing fruit for other Alabama inmates serving life without parole for crimes they committed before they were 18. For them, the process can be difficult, slow and vary county by county. And thanks to a 2016 state law, they may have a long wait for a parole hearing even if they succeed.

For example, the July 31 decision declaring juvenile lifer Richard Kinder eligible for parole came nine months after a hearing before a judge in Birmingham, attorney Richard Jaffe said.

“The judge wanted to be thorough and know every inch of it — every document, every record, and there were thousands and thousands of pages,” said Jaffe, who defended Kinder in his 1984 trial and served as co-counsel in his resentencing.

Joy Patterson, a spokeswoman for the Alabama attorney general’s office, said about 70 other state inmates are eligible for new sentencing hearings under the 2012 Miller v. Alabama decision and its 2016 follow-up, Montgomery v. Louisiana, which declared the Miller ruling retroactive.

So far, 20 of them have been resentenced to life with a chance at parole, said Eddie Cook, a spokesman for the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.

State Rep. Jim Hill, a former judge who pushed to bring Alabama’s capital sentencing law into line with the Miller decision, said he has urged his old colleagues to get on with the task at hand.

“I have certainly had judges call me and ask, ‘Do I need to have rehearings?’ And my answer to them is, ‘Sure. You must. Go ahead and schedule it and get it done,’” said Hill, a Republican who chairs the state House Judiciary Committee.

Alabama’s new capital sentencing law, passed in 2016, also requires that teens convicted of capital murder serve 30 years before becoming eligible for release. Since Kinder has been imprisoned more than 30 years, he now has the right to a parole hearing, Jaffe said.

But other juvenile lifers will face more years behind bars even if they succeed in getting their chance at parole. That would include Miller himself, who was convicted in 2006.

That 30-year requirement isn’t the most stringent, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization. At least two states — Texas and Nebraska — require a 40-year minimum. But it’s tougher than others: West Virginia allows inmates to get a hearing after 15 years; Nevada, 20; and South Dakota leaves the issue entirely up to a judge.

And the Miller decision barred only the automatic imposition of a life-without-parole sentence for a teen killer. Judges can still hand down that term after weighing the evidence. But the justices required them to consider a teen’s "diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change," and the follow-up Montgomery decision limits the punishment to teens whose crimes show “permanent incorrigibility.”

“It’s going to apply to the rarest of the rare cases,” Jaffe said.

Kinder has served nearly 33 years of a life-without-parole sentence for a killing committed when he was 17.

Kinder, then 17, was convicted of capital murder in the 1983 killing of 16-year-old Kathleen Bedsole during a robbery and kidnapping. As an accomplice, Kinder was spared the death penalty, but got life without parole. The 21-year-old gunman, David Duren, went to the electric chair in 2000, having dropped his appeals after a religious conversion.

Jaffe called Kinder’s resentencing “excruciating” and “heart-wrenching.” It featured testimony from Bedsole’s boyfriend, who survived his wounds that night. But guards and teachers at the prison where Kinder has been locked up testified that he has been a model prisoner. His disciplinary record includes only one infraction, and he earned a high school equivalency diploma, an associate’s degree from a community college and a trade school diploma in furniture refinishing.

In addition, Duren’s attorney signed an affidavit recounting that his client had said he made the decision to shoot Bledsoe and her boyfriend without telling Kinder, and that Kinder had told him there “was no need to shoot.” Jaffe said Circuit Judge Teresa Pulliam found Kinder “was not only rehabilitatable, but had been rehabilitated.”

Pulliam has scheduled several other hearings for inmates convicted in Jefferson County, the state’s largest, said Michael Hanle, president of the Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. But for convicts in other counties, there’s little movement, he said.

“We’re not quick to the table,” said Hanle, who is also Jaffe’s law partner. Rural counties especially “are not moving as quickly as in some other jurisdictions, and they’re having a little more difficult time.”

Many judges aren’t eager to reduce sentences, and defense lawyers are often court-appointed and lack the resources to assemble their case. But the biggest obstacle is time, he said.

“Some of these guys have been in prison 20, 25, 30, 35 years, and a lot has happened during that time,” Hanle said. Finding witnesses becomes harder, and it’s more difficult to present testimony that would point toward a lighter term.

“And of course, a defendant has a lifetime literally in the Department of Corrections, which comes with its ups and downs,” he said. “Some of them have gone on to do great things as far as their education, training and rehabilitation. Others have had problems, and all those things are going to be brought back up during the resentencing.”

Hill said the judges he knows “all want to follow the law, whether they like it or don’t like it.”

“I think it’s a necessity that we do it,” he added. “It’s one of those things that when you see what the situation is, you need to address it. It took us a couple of years to address it, but we did, and I’m very glad that we did.”

Miller is represented by the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative, which took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bryan Stevenson, EJI’s executive director, did not respond to a request for comment.

Nationwide, about 2,500 inmates are eligible for new hearings under the Miller and Montgomery decisions. It’s not clear how many of them have had those hearings, but states well beyond Alabama have been slow to schedule them, said Josh Rovner, a juvenile justice advocacy associate at The Sentencing Project.  

“While there are certainly states that have sharp declines — sometimes because state supreme courts required it — in many cases, the states barely budged in the number of people serving life without parole for things they did as a juvenile,” Rovner said.

For example, Iowa has moved quickly to resentence inmates eligible for new hearings under Miller, and it has eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for crimes committed by juveniles altogether, Rovner said. But in Arkansas, a judge recently struck down the state’s new sentencing law because it failed to provide for individualized hearings. And the three states with the most juvenile life-without-parole sentences — Michigan, Louisiana and Pennsylvania — “really dragged their feet on this,” he said.

“The facts are rarely in question,” Rovner said. “The question is what is the juvenile’s maturity, involvement in the offense, what was his family life like — these are questions that are able to be answered.” Caseloads and procedures might move at different paces in some places, but he said waiting five years since the Miller decision “is preposterous.”  

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Iowa Awarded Federal Grant to Improve Juvenile Justice Programming

Linn County Court House in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Iowa was recently awarded a three-year, $750,000 federal grant from the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) will aid state officials in implementing more effective juvenile justice programming.

The Iowa Department of Human Right’s Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning (CJJP) intends to provide three of the state’s eight judicial districts with resources to evaluate juvenile programs and improve services for youth offenders.

“The new project will bolster current work, allowing both CJJP and the field to be better informed as to which services are likely to achieve outcomes related to reduced recidivism, increased public safety and lower costs,” Paul Stageberg, CJJP administrator, told the Des Moines Register.

New projects will be centralized in northwestern and northeastern Iowa, and target cities include Cedar Rapids, Sioux City and Waterloo. Officials will use new tools to assess current juvenile programs in comparison to other evidence-based detention alternatives.

“We want to increase public safety, reduce recidivism and lower the cost,” Gov. Terry Branstad told the Des Moines Register. “We won’t be just implementing new tools, we will be measuring the effectiveness of the tools in this project.”

Appeals Accepted in First Miller Cases

Less than three weeks after a Supreme Court ruling mandated it, an Iowa court gives two inmates the right to appeal the life without parole sentences they were given years ago when they were 17 years old.

“We’re thrilled to see these concrete steps being made,” said Jody Kent Lavy, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “They are obviously required to do so,” she added.

The Iowa cases may be the first nationwide re-opened under Miller v. Alabama.

The Supreme Court said in Miller that sentencing judges must consider mitigating factors in dealing with juvenile homicide cases. That invalidates about 2,400 sentences nationwide in federal courts and the 28 states where juveniles have been sent to life without parole under mandatory sentencing schemes. Mandatory sentencing laws ignore age, youth brain development, life history and all other factors.

And now defense attorneys are calling to consult Gordon Allen, who represents Iowa inmate Christine Lockheart.

“The Supreme Court says now the defendant is different and in court we will show how she’s different,” said Allen. He filed with Iowa Court of Appeals a motion for illegal sentencing right after the Miller verdict. The court vacated the sentence on July 11.

Now Allen is preparing Lockheart’s appeal, which he expects will be heard sometime in the next two to five weeks. He also said, however, that he will suggest a plea bargain.

In Iowa at any time attorneys can challenge an illegal sentence, Allen explained, but added that not all states have the same statute.

“If you can’t find it in the rules, make it up,” he advises attorneys.  “This is a Constitutional decision. If you don’t have a motion to correct an illegal sentence, file one anyway.”

He’s communicated via e-mail with Lockheart since the decision and said it was “big news” in prison.

Lockheart was found guilty of first-degree murder in 1985. She had been sitting outside in a truck when her boyfriend went in the home of a Lockheart family friend and killed the older man.

Iowan Thomas Bennett had his sentence for the 1998 shooting death of a Des Moines man vacated the same day as Lockheart.

Allen said, “the mitigating evidence allowed will be quite similar to what’s allowed in a death penalty case.” That is, a very broad list of things will qualify for inclusion, almost anything in a defendant’s history.

He has one other piece of advice for defense attorneys in Miller cases: “You have to be extremely responsible to and aware of victims … The victims are understandably upset their relative is not here and will never be here again.”

The National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers brings together grieving families.

“While we understand the tragic consequences to the killers, the entire context of this decision is first and foremost the appalling and senseless murders of our innocent loved ones and the devastation left behind,” said Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, NOVJL president, in a statement.  Her organization says Miller reopens the judicial part of their painful ordeals that victim families considered closed.

Photo from The Bilerco Project.


New Child Labor Laws Could Hurt Small Farms, Advocates Say

Local farm advocates in Iowa are concerned a new set of child-labor laws would inadvertently restrict the number of future farmers and place unnecessary restrictions on family farms.

According to The Daily Iowan, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed a new set of rules in 2011 that prohibit children under the age of 16 from working in manure pits or with certain animals unless their parents completely own the farm.

However, many smaller farms in Iowa are multigenerational, Russ Meade, president of the Johnson County Farm Bureau told The Iowan.

"We have a diverse makeup of smaller farms that rely heavily on extended family involvement," Meade said. "[The regulations] would significantly restrict kids' ability to participate."

Iowa farmer Kurt Dallmeyer said the rules could impact the number of children interested in farming, putting local farms at risk in the future and increasing the trend of factory farms in the state.

"You develop your interest in agriculture at a young age," Dallmeyer told The Iowan. "If they want to put rules in place that say it's too dangerous or too scary, they're basically going to limit the number of people who want to be involved in agriculture, because they don't have the experience."

The Labor Department has offered to revise the new rules following complaints from farmers. So far, no specific changes have been made.

Children need the experience of farming early if they are to learn the necessary skills, according to Dal Grooms, director of communications for the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.

"We know that safety and the responsibility of animal care can go hand-in-hand when properly planned and supervised," Grooms said. "It is through that exposure to circumstances involved in livestock production that young people learn how to safely work with livestock."

She added, “It's up to the parent to determine their children's skills. We want our kids to be safe and would not put them in position of something they can't handle."

Photo by | Richard Webb

After Iowa: Candidates’ Records on Juvenile Justice and Education Issues

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R)

The first leg of the 2012 presidential race ended in a virtual dead heat between Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, with the former Massachusetts governor edging the former Pennsylvania senator by a mere eight votes in Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses.

With several primaries scheduled for the month of January, the results of Iowa’s contest may be just the beginning of a long and potentially tumultuous road to establishing a Republican challenger to President Obama this November.

In regards to juvenile justice and education issues, both Romney and Santorum have figured prominently in establishing reform measures within their respective states.

Romney served as the governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007, overseeing an overhaul of the state’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee during his first year in office.

In 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized Massachusetts officials for failing to comply with the Disproportionate Minority Confinement provision of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Provision Act [JJDP] of 1974.  In response, the Romney administration outlined a complete reorganization of the state’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee [JJAC], a State Advisory Group established by a 2002 addendum to the JJDP Act.

Shortly after the ACLU issued its report accusing the state of sending disproportionate numbers of minorities to juvenile detention centers, Romney appointed former Department of Youth Services Commissioner Robert Gittens to head the state’s JJAC. The state’s restructured JJAC required quarterly meetings, as opposed to two annual meetings prior to the Romney administration’s overhaul of the committee, with subcommittee hearings held eight times a year. Additionally, the Romney administration created a full-time staff within the JJAC that monitored the state’s juvenile justice issues, with several non-governmental reform advocates serving as committee members.

In 2003, an estimated 5,562 juveniles were held in Massachusetts’ detention centers. By 2006, the population numbers had dropped to 4,817, although youth of color still made up more than half of the state’s Department of Youth Services committed population.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R)

According to a Center for Juvenile Justice report, approximately a quarter of the state’s detained youth were 14 or younger in 2006.

In his 2010 book “No Apologies,” Romney wrote that the nation’s “current failure to educate our minority populations is the foremost civil-rights issue of our generation.” Continuing, he said that there is “no greater indictment of American government than the sorry state of American education,” which he cites as an “epic failure.”

As a former United States senator and congressman from Pennsylvania’s 18th district, Rick Santorum has remained mostly quiet regarding his stance on juvenile justice issues.

In 1993, Santorum voted in favor of HR 3351, The Youth Offenders Alternative Punishment Bill, a piece of legislation that supplemented funding for state programs that sought alternatives to juvenile incarceration or probation.

In 1999, Santorum voted in favor of S 254, the Juvenile Crime Bill, which prohibited the housing of juvenile offenders in the same facilities as adult inmates although authorizing minors 14 or older to be tried as adults in the case of serious violent or drug-related felonies.

Pertaining to educational issues, Santorum is a noted proponent of school voucher programs, voting in favor of the Education Savings Act and School Excellence Act of 1998 and the Affordable Education Act of 2000.

In a 2011 interview, Santorum said that the Department of Education was “unnecessary and overseeing a state bureaucracy which is already a big problem.” His rival Romney, while calling for the complete abolishment of the Department of Education in the early 1990s, praised the DOE in 2007, stating that the department “can actually make a difference” in the lives of America’s youth.

According to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, as of 2010, Pennsylvania has more than 4,000 juvenile offenders in residential placement programs, whereas Massachusetts has fewer than 700 youths in such facilities. In both states, the numbers of youths in privately-held facilities are greater than those in public facilities, with Pennsylvania housing more than three times as many youth offenders in non-public residences than publicly-funded facilities.

The next Republican primary will be held Jan. 10 in New Hampshire, with subsequent primaries scheduled for South Carolina and Florida later this month.