Criminal Justice

Louisiana Inmates Serving Unconstitutional Sentences Will Have to Keep Waiting for Relief

Louisiana state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson just blocked a bill that would have provided relief to those sentenced as children to life without parole.

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WoodleyWonderWorks/Flickr

Yesterday, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a Democrat representing Louisiana's District 5, blocked a bill that would have allowed people sentenced as children to life in prison without the possibility of parole—essentially death without execution—to become eligible for parole after serving 30 years behind bars and meeting certain other requirements. Why would a democratic senator let the clock run out on a bill that sailed through the Louisiana House (82-3) with bipartisan support and would likely have seen a similar vote in the Senate? Petty politics, of course. 

According to Julia O'Donoghue of the Times-Picayune, Peterson actively blocked the juvenile-parole bill as retribution for House members failing to vote on a construction budget bill that was backed by the Senate. Now a vote on the measure, House Bill 264, will have to wait indefinitely, as the regular legislative session has run out.

HB 264, sponsored by Representative Sherman Mack (R-Livingston), would have made Louisiana compliant with two recent U.S. Supreme Court cases. In 2012, the Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life without the possibility of parole sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional. Earlier this year, the Court ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana that the Miller case should be applied retroactively to minors sentenced before 2012.

It's estimated that approximately 300 inmates could have been eligible for parole through the passage of the Louisiana bill. That means there are currently 300 inmates who were essentially sentenced to die in prison for crimes they committed when they were kids—something the U.S. Supreme Court has determined to be a form of "cruel and unusual" punishment. But because of Peterson's petty politics, they'll have to keep waiting for relief until a bill is passed and signed by Governor Edwards. Perhaps that will happen if a special session is called, perhaps they'll have to wait until next year.

According to Ben Cohen, of counsel for the Promise of Justice Initiative, Peterson's actions will result in a wave of new litigation because Louisiana still is not compliant with the recent Supreme Court decisions. This litigation will come with additional costs and uncertainty.

Cohen wrote in an email, "I think the idea that this will be fixed some day in the future, either by the state courts, the United States Supreme Court, or at next year's legislative session—it derives from the perverse view that people serving an unconstitutional sentence of life without parole at Angola, should be happy with whatever they get, should accept a second class justice. When I think about the people I know serving that sentence, that unconstitutional sentence, each day is an injustice. And today, I think Senator Peterson is responsible for that."  

It's times like these where it's important to remember that being awful on criminal-justice issues can be a bipartisan issue, too.

This post has been updated since publication.

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  1. “life in prison without the possibility of parole?essentially death without execution”

    C’mon. Really?

    1. Maybe Lauren isn’t as imaginative as you are about all the possibilities for a rich and fulfilling life behind bars.

      1. I suspect, if you ask most of the death row inmates, who have, you know, actually been sentenced to death, they’d far prefer a life behind bars.

        1. I’d rather eat a bullet than do life in prison.

          1. Same, but perspective matters, and for some reason death row inmates seem to disagree.

          2. But life in prison over a botched poisoning??

      2. How is that relevant? My life is neither rich nor fulfilling and I’m not in prison.

      3. I gleefully imagine Hillary serving a life sentence with no parole in a Supermax facility. Only allowed out of 8×8 foot cell one hour per day for exercise while under armed guard. Just like they did with Robert Hanssen. Both of the, are guilty of espionage related crimes.

    2. Yes, life without the possibility of parole almost certainly means you will die behind bars unless your sentence is commuted/pardoned or the law is changed. The cemetery at Angola is huge. Inmates whose bodies aren’t claimed by their families are buried on prison grounds, and current inmates make the caskets.

    3. I have visited Angola, so yeah, really.

      I felt sick for a week after and I will never go back. Your eyes see it but your brain cant accept the shit you see there.

      That is just the tip of the iceberg. In a lot of backwater parishes they put people in hellholes just because. They are usually hard cases, but just putting people in jail indefinitely with no charges, no trial, no lawyer is unacceptable. I suspect Louisiana isnt special in this regard.

    4. Yes, really. What is wrong with you?

    5. What’s really amazing is that there’s no mention that these are murderers. Not one in this article.

      Murderers whose crimes were so heinous they got life without parole.

      1. I thought that went without saying myself.

      2. Murderers whose crimes were so heinous they got life without parole.

        Crimes they committed as juveniles. The vast majority of the state legislature thought that some of these people could have a chance at being paroled, and their chance at parole (again, chance at parole), was blocked because of politics.

      3. Well I guess we can assume those sentences were handed down squarely because they were sadistic predatory monsters, and certainly not because of an overzealous prosecutor, or an incompetent defense, or a loaded jury, or a racist judge. This is Louisiana after all, where the criminal justice system is so clean and fair that checks like this are just a waste of legislation.

        1. Even assuming ever prosecution was fair and just, denying a person the chance to be paroled – especially a person who committed the crime when they were younger than 18 – is pretty terrible.

          1. TFW you see that ‘Crusty Juggler’ has already made all of your points for you.

            1. Why did you put Crust in quotes? Are you implying that isn’t his real name?

              1. Maybe she doesn’t believe in The Greater Good.

          2. Redemption is not something Americans believe it. Best to stamp out any hope of turning your life around. I can’t foresee any bad consequences.

      4. Yeah, but there was still no mention of the fact that these were murderers.

        When you leave out that fact while advocating for the release of ‘juveniles’ who were sentenced to life in prison and it is discovered that the juveniles in question are murderers–it looks like you were trying to hide something.

        It looks like you’re trying to garner sympathy where sympathy is unwarranted.

        Be honest, lay ALL the cards on the table.

        This was a tactical move, the murderers will get their day before the parole board–it’s clearly wanted by most legislators in Loiusiana, you’ve got no reason to feel the need to hide stuff.

        1. As was mentioned in the article, the Supreme Court already said they have the right to seek parole, so it will happen eventually.

          When you leave out that fact while advocating for the release of ‘juveniles’ who were sentenced to life in prison and it is discovered that the juveniles in question are murderers–it looks like you were trying to hide something.

          Okay. Still, a life sentence is a life sentence. I would argue that a reader can make the assumption that these people were found guilty of committing serious crimes. But, as Lauren states below, and I have tried to state, just because they have the chance to seek parole does not mean they are going to get it.

      5. I would say that whether they committed murder or some other crime is largely irrelevant. One thing I’d like to hear from more libertarians is that we shouldn’t be sentencing children as adults, period. I don’t care how serious the crime was, it’s morally indefensible to treat someone under 18 as an adult. We don’t have criteria to allow exceptional young people to vote prior to the age of 18, you can’t enlist in the military (well, you can go at 17 but it requires parental consent) you can’t legally own property or sign a contract. How is it either legally or morally OK to say that you can’t do all of this good stuff that adults can choose to do but if you do something bad we’re going to treat you like an adult anyway? And how has this never been challenged under the 14th Amendment?

  2. “Governor Edwards”

    Wait a minute, let me Google that…

    Oh, it’s John Bel Edwards, no relation to Edwin.

    1. at least they’re unrelated according to wikipedia.

      1. Yeah, but does Wikipedia know from Bayou bloodlines?

  3. The lesson to take away here is that after a definitive ruling on the law of the land, submission to the law still requires votes by state legislature which can be nullified by some petty bitch.

    1. “The court has made its decision, now let it enforce it!”

  4. How about the photo above, with the kids behind the bars?

    Just a hunch, but it doesn’t seem demographically tethered to reality.

    1. That’s a picture of a public school. Not sure what it has to do with an article about prison.

    2. It’s adorable. Always a way to get me to look. Same with pussy cat.

  5. Now those 300 inmates will have even more chances to compete in the prison rodeo.

  6. So *that’s* where Popper keeps them…

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  9. Law and Order Democrats; keeping soccer moms safe from the Big Bad Wolf.

  10. Did the Reason site just experience problems, or was it me?

    1. Not the usual 3PM squirrel shift change, but a different kind of glitch I see from time to time.

  11. “children”

    ?

    Louisiana really throws people under the age of puberty in prison for life?

    1. This is the most pedantic statement I’ve ever seen on the internet.

      You’re one of those people who gets into “pedophile” versus “hebephile” versus “ephebophile” arguments, aren’t you.

      1. You seem to have conjured up an objection that I never made, and then made an ass of yourself as, a result.

        I was asking if they actually throw CHILDREN in prison, and was unclear how, to draw a distinction between a 17 year old and a 5 year old in an easy way.

        I suppose I could have been more clear, but I really didn’t expect someone to get it as, wrong as you did.

        1. I suppose I could have been more clear, but I really didn’t expect someone to get it as, wrong as you did.

          I interpreted it the same way he did, as though if you were taking aim at the author’s use of the term “children.” You are the one who inserted puberty (ew) into the conversation.

          1. “You are the one who inserted puberty (ew) into the conversation”

            How else would you describe a young person, that makes, it clear they are very young, not 16 or 17?

            I struggled.

            And I explained why.

            So you both jumped the gun , no biggie, You managed a reply that wasn’t an attack, however, so something is clearly different between you two.

          2. What’ so ewy about puberty, aside from dorky boys not having any game and embarrassing themselves in front of sylphs over whom they salivate?

    2. The state of Louisiana does not consider a person to be an “adult” until they are 18.

      1. Um, I don’t know what you’re talking about, I was asking, “does Louisiana actually throw children in prison for life”, that’s all.

        What is wrong with you ?

        1. What is wrong with you ?

          So, so much.

          1. Sorry, that should have been to the person above you, your reply doesn’t even address what I said.

        2. Yes Danny, we do.

      1. Thank you. Has Louisiana done similar, because, it’s monstrous.

        Aside, Why does it seem like so many people jumped to the conclusion that I was going to take, issue with her wording? And then acted like assholes because of their misinterpretation?

          1. Is that the one that says most people on the internet are assholes who read things but don’t get them?

            1. No answers until after the test.

    3. They throw 14-year olds with borderline retard IQ’s in prison for life. NTTAWWT, necessarily. Argue all you want that a retarded kid isn’t responsible for his actions because “he didn’t know any better” and I’ll argue that you’re an idiot if you think it’s fine and dandy to allow a retard who doesn’t know he’s not supposed to kill people the freedom to just go wandering around as much as he pleases. A rabid dog isn’t responsible for his actions, either, but you kill it just the same, for everybody else’s protection. Lock the kid up unless and until there’s a good case to be made that he now understands he’s not supposed to harm other people and letting him out of prison is not a public danger. (This assumes of course that you’ve got something more substantial than a mere conviction as evidence the kid did actually commit the crime he was charged with and that’s not a petty consideration in some jurisdictions.)

      1. Seconded.

  12. Here’s an idea: let’s imprison the politicians in Louisiana for life without parole and let all these children out and install THEM in the seats vacated by these rotten power-grabbers.

    I virtually guarantee that government there would probably improve as a result. After all, when you’ve hit bottom, there is only one direction you can go.

  13. In 2012, the Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that life without the possibility of parole sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional.

    Unless I’m greatly mistaken, the ruling was that mandatory life w/o parole sentences for juveniles violated the Eighth. The whole basis for juvenile courts is in recognition of the fact that juveniles may not be fully accountable for their actions and not allowing a judge or jury to take youth into account as a mitigating factor in sentencing belies that principle. (I don’t know that I necessarily agree with the reasoning that a hearing to determine if a juvenile is liable to be tried as an adult fails to consider whether or not a juvenile is liable to be punished as an adult as well, it seems to me that that’s part and parcel of determining if the juvenile is competent to stand trial as an adult. Be that as it may, I’m pretty sure the Louisiana justice system is more FUBAR than most and I suspect there’s a high degree of disparate sentencing going on all over the place so I’m not going to complain too loudly about one hinky pinciple attempting to unhink another. If you’re not going to burn it all down, I’ll accept starting fires where you can.)

  14. 1) The picture shoves the attempt at making a point down quite a bit.

    2) Is the Unconstitutional ruling based on sound interpretations of the Constitution or some “twisting of the preamble”?

    3) Taking away the ability to adjudicate via legislation destroys checks and balances regardless of age. There can be some twelve years olds who are completely devoid of humanity, and some adults who might really change. Mandating life from hysteria takes away a jury’s function to do their jobs. Or I suppose a Judge’s.

    Regardless, I don’t care for this kind of writing on Reason. It is one of those articles that is shreikee. I can get thin, shreikee articles at NBCNEWS.COM and FOXNEWS.COM. I’ve come to Reason for a higher caliber experience. There’s less and less such experiences here of late. And, no, I don’t have to agree with the point to appreciate the article. Altogether too much tailored opinion wrapped up in mediocre argumentation.

  15. One more thing to add.

    I have had personal interactions with three of the kids that are affected by this. When they committed their crimes they were 16, 16 and 17 respectively. One black, two white.

    They were stone cold sociopaths.

    Stone. Cold.

    Thinking about those guys now I have no problem with them staying in prison forever.

    1. Yeah, if we are talking about kids committing murder in cold blood, I’m not sure why I should feel sympathy for them.

      1. Because we’re supposed to be more like Europe. We need to fit in with the cool kids.

    2. This law would’ve only allowed them to be eligible for parole after a certain number of years–doesn’t guarantee release.

  16. Because it hurts less to be murdered by a juvenile. And the lives of juvenile murderers are worth more than their victims, even juvenile victims.

    1. If one out of the three-hundred currently in prison for life has rehabilitated themselves, they deserve the chance (again, the chance) at being paroled. This woman prevented that person the opportunity by stopping this bill.

      1. I don’t see why a murderer should have a right to turn their life around and escape further penalty. Their victim has a right to justice. That should be the basis for a justice system, not some agenda of reprogramming people so they become safe for the rest of us to be around.

      2. If one out of the three-hundred currently in prison for life has rehabilitated themselves, they deserve the chance (again, the chance) at being paroled.

        I think, as long as the petition for parole is brought forth by the criminals victim(s), that this should be fine.

        The murderer should have just as much chance at a normal life as the person they murdered.

        And, as I again note, this was a tactical move–the legislature wants this, it will pass.

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  18. Why the fuck should a murderer get a second chance?
    If new evidence comes up that exonerates him, then hell ya, new trial or parole him or whatever.
    But otherwise, rot in jail.
    I don’t care how old the kid was when the murder was committed.

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