Over a dozen national and international organizations representing teachers, scientists, adolescent development experts, physicians, and corrections professionals have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida, which challenge sentences to life imprisonment without parole imposed on children. As the Supreme Court prepares to address this issue, these supporters are speaking out about why they believe children are different when it comes to life-without-parole sentencing.
One friend-of-the-court brief was filed on behalf of former juvenile offenders who committed serious crimes but were able to become productive, law-abiding adults and make meaningful contributions to society. Award-winning actor Charles Dutton and best-selling author and activist Ishmael Beah joined this brief, along with former United States Senator Alan Simpson.
Senator Simpson wrote in a recent op-ed in support of Sullivan and Graham that, “Locking up a youth for the rest of his life, with no hope for parole, is surely unconstitutional . . . The person you are at 13 or 17 is not the person you are at 30, 40 or 50. Everyone old enough to look back on his or her teenage years knows this.”
Former juvenile offender and Detroit City Council candidate Raphael Johnson also joined the amicus brief and wrote in Newsweek, “I’m proof that people, especially teens, can’t be judged by the worst thing they ever did.”
The success stories of these former juvenile offenders come at the right moment to provide important context for the oral arguments in the two cases, which will take place on November 9, 2009, in Washington, D.C.