EJI Attorney Argues in California Court that Death in Prison Sentence for 14-Year-Old is Unconstitutional


On October 22, 2008, EJI’s Bryan Stevenson argued in the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District, Division Three, on behalf of Antonio Nunez, who was sentenced to die in prison for his involvement at age 14 in an offense that injured no one.

The three-judge panel sitting in Santa Ana, California, was receptive to Stevenson’s argument that Antonio’s age and lack of violent criminal record, the nature of the offense in which no one was injured, and the fact that California law prohibits sentencing 14-year-olds convicted of first-degree special-circumstances murder to life imprisonment without parole make Antonio’s sentence grossly disproportionate under state and federal law.

Stevenson argued that Antonio’s sentence is truly unusual, since he is the only person in the world serving a life imprisonment without possibility of parole sentence for an offense, at 14, in which no one was injured.

The State of California did not dispute the fact that Antonio Nunez, who had been shot and nearly killed months before the offense, was suffering from trauma disorder at the time of the crime, and had lived in a violent, abusive, and neglectful environment.

The State’s lawyer argued that it was not grossly disproportionate to sentence a 14-year-old child to death in prison for an offense where no one was injured even though under California law he could not have received such a harsh sentence if he had committed a highly aggravated murder.

The case was submitted at the close of the oral argument and is now pending at the Court of Appeal.