United States Supreme Court Will Review Joe Sullivan’s Sentence to Die in Prison for Offense at Age 13


The United States Supreme Court today decided that it will review the case of Joe Sullivan, who was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in Florida for an offense at age 13 that did not involve a killing.

Attorneys from EJI filed a petition in the United States Supreme Court in December asking it to address whether Joe Sullivan’s sentence to die in prison for a crime that occurred when he was 13 years old is cruel and unusual punishment. Today, the Court granted the request and announced it will review the case.

EJI’s Bryan Stevenson represents Joe Sullivan. “We’re delighted that the Court has agreed to review Joe Sullivan’s sentence and the question of condemning young children to die in prison,” he said. “Imposition of life imprisonment without parole sentences on young children remains an area of U.S. sentencing law that desperately needs reform. I’m hoping that the Court will make a step toward more rational and appropriate sentencing after reviewing Joe’s case.”

Joe Sullivan is one of only two 13-year-olds in the United States to be sentenced to die in prison for an offense in which no one was killed. Both of these sentences were imposed in Florida, making Florida the only state in the country to have sentenced a 13-year-old to die in prison for a non-homicide.

Joe, who is mentally diabled, was accused by an older boy of committing a sexual battery when they broke into a home together.

The older boy received a short sentence in juvenile detention, but Joe was tried as an adult, convicted of sexual battery, and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Only eight people in the country are sentenced to die in prison for any offense committed at age 13. The United States is the only country in the world where children as young as 13 are sentenced to die in prison. Last week, the California Court of Appeal held that a sentence to life without parole for 14-year-old Antonio Nunez for an aggravated kidnapping in which no one was injured violated the state constitution and the Eighth Amendment.