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March 23, 2014

An End to Mandatory Life without Parole Sentences for Juveniles in Illinois

by Dan Rodriguez

Earlier this week the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in People v. Davis, deciding that the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama is retroactive in Illinois. The Miller case decided that children under the age of 18 at the time of their offenses could not receive a sentence of life without parole without consideration of their specific circumstances. Now, individuals currently serving mandatory juvenile life sentences without parole in Illinois will have an opportunity to have resentencing hearings. These hearings will allow judges to weigh all of the circumstances in the 80-odd cases that were subject to these mandatory sentences.

An article in today’s edition of the Chicago Tribune focused on the perspective of judges in particular: “Ruling offers hope to some imprisoned as youths: Judges also pleased by end to mandatory life terms for juveniles.” The article highlights the tireless efforts of lawyers in the Children and Family Justice Center to, in the words of Alison Flaum, Clinical Associate Professor of Law and Legal Director of the CFJC, “…demonstrate the problems with mandatory, one-size-fits-all sentencing.”

“These are but two of the many examples of the impact of Bluhm’s work in the representation of clients and on justice reform,” Tom Geraghty, Director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic (and Northwestern Law alum!) told me earlier today. “Working with others, Bluhm faculty provide important leadership in an impressive array of justice-related activities. Our faculty-led initiatives provide unequaled educational experiences for our students.  It is my hope that we will be able to capture and convey what Bluhm faculty are accomplishing while, at the same time, continuing to work collaboratively with the justice community (and with other leaders in clinical education) and modeling the best of professionalism for our students.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

If you are interested in additional information and perspectives on this decision, the Children and Family Justice Center published a recap of the Davis case and its implications on their blog, Youth Matters, and Joshua Tepfer published a thoughtful article about how this relates to his work on innocence cases on the Center on Wrongful Convictions blog.

Thank you to my colleagues for their extraordinary work in this area, and for their important contributions to juvenile justice.

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