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CCI joins amicus brief questioning mandatory life without parole sentence for juveniles

scales of justiceThe Catholic Conference of Illinois this week joined other faith-based organizations in an amicus brief in a case before the Illinois Supreme Court calling for retroactive review of mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles.

The case comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miller v. Alabama decision handed down in June 2012, in which the justices ruled the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution “forbids a sentencing that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.” The court noted that juveniles lack maturity, are far more impressionable than adults, and still have the capacity to change.

The Illinois case involves Adolfo Davis, who was 14 when he was serving as a look-out for two older gang members who ended up shooting and killing two people during a robbery. 

Davis was sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole, and has spent more than two decades behind bars. However, he has accepted responsibility for his actions, attained his General Education Diploma, and works with a Catholic priest to counsel and deter at-risk children from criminal activity. Cardinal George in September 2011 wrote a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn, asking him to commute Davis’ sentence.

An Illinois appellate court ruled that Davis’s sentence should be reviewed, but the state is appealing that decision to the Illinois Supreme Court. 

CCI’s amicus brief asks that if a juvenile defendant who has been sentenced to mandatory life without parole initiates a review of his or her sentence, then the Miller decision should apply.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in January endorsed the principles of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth to end the practice of sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

"While there is no question that violent and dangerous youth need to be confined for their safety and that of society, the USCCB does not support provisions that treat children as though they are equal to adults in their moral and cognitive development," said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. "Life sentences without parole eliminate the opportunity for rehabilitation or second chances."