The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Kuntrell Jackson, who was originally sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for an offense at age 14, is now entitled to a new sentencing hearing.
Kuntrell Jackson was barely 14 on the night of the incident that led to his arrest. He was walking with an older cousin and friend when the boys began discussing the idea of robbing a video store. When they arrived at the store, the other two boys went in, but Kuntrell stayed outside by the door. One of the other boys shot the clerk, and then all three fled without taking any money.
Kuntrell was tried as an adult and convicted of capital murder. The court imposed a mandatory life imprisonment without parole sentence. EJI challenged his sentence as cruel and unusual punishment that violates the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition in Roper v. Simmons, and in Graham v. Florida, that children are different from adults in ways that must be considered in sentencing.
In a divided opinion on February 9, 2011, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the legality of Kuntrell’s sentence. EJI asked the United States Supreme Court to address the constitutionality of Kuntrell’s life-without-parole sentence.
On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court issued an historic ruling in Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama, holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger convicted of homicide are unconstitutional.
In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Arkansas Supreme Court yesterday ordered a new sentencing hearing for Kuntrell Jackson at which the sentencer must consider evidence about Kuntrell’s extremely young age, his background, and the circumstances of the crime, including that he did not shoot the clerk.
The State of Arkansas had argued that Kuntrell should receive another mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with parole, but EJI argued that Kuntrell should be re-sentenced within the discretionary sentencing range for a Class Y felony, which is not less than ten years and not more than forty years, or life. The Court agreed with EJI’s argument.
In another Arkansas case decided the same day, the state supreme court held that Lemuel Whiteside is also entitled to be resentenced within the discretionary range for a Class Y felony, and explained that, because Miller/Jackson held that a mandatory life-without-parole sentence imposed on a juvenile is illegal under the Eighth Amendment, that void or illegal sentence is subject to challenge at any time.