50 Former Justice Dept. Leaders, Prosecutors and Judges Join ICAP Brief Urging Resentencing For Juvenile Offender

September 14, 2018

WASHINGTON – In an amicus brief filed today, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former acting U.S. Attorney General Peter Keisler, and former Deputy Attorneys General David Ogden and Gary Grindler joined a bipartisan group of 50 signatories, including current and former federal, state, and local prosecutors and judges, to urge the Supreme Court to review the sentence of life without the possibility of parole handed down to Joey Chandler in Mississippi for a murder he committed 15 years ago when he was just 17 years old.

In the brief—written by attorneys at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), including former federal prosecutor Mary McCord and longtime Department of Justice attorney Douglas Letter—the prosecutors and judges urge the Supreme Court to step in to ensure that Mississippi courts recognize in sentencing juvenile offenders what the Court concluded in Miller v. Alabama in 2012: that children under the age of 18 are “constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.” The brief asks the Supreme Court to require Mississippi to effectuate the Court’s ruling, made explicit in a case that followed Miller in 2016, that life without the possibility of parole should be reserved solely for “the rare juvenile offender who exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible and life without parole is justified.”

Because Joey Chandler was originally convicted and sentenced to life without parole before the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the mandatory imposition of that sentence on juvenile offenders in Miller, he received a resentencing in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling. The sentencing court ultimately imposed the same sentence in what the brief contends was a legally deficient ruling. Rather than heed the Supreme Court’s new direction to consider whether his crime reflected “transient immaturity,” the state court pronounced Chandler “mature” based largely on what 17-year-olds are legally entitled to do, such as obtain a driver’s license and an abortion. And rather than consider the abundant evidence of Chandler’s efforts to educate and rehabilitate himself while in prison, the state court shirked its responsibility by merely noting that the state’s executive branch could pardon or commute Chandler’s sentence if it deemed such action warranted.

“The crime Mr. Chandler committed as a child was horrifying and tragic for the victim, his family, and their community, and it is important for prosecutors to acknowledge this reality,” said McCord, who was an assistant U.S. attorney for nearly 20 years and most recently served as acting assistant attorney general for national security in 2016-2017. “But it is also important to recognize that the evidence does not show that he is among those rare offenders who demonstrate irretrievable depravity, and that children, even those who commit the ultimate crime, may be capable of change.”

The Supreme Court’s understanding of the Eighth Amendment’s application to juvenile sentencing has evolved as the scientific community’s understanding of adolescent development has grown, with recent research showing that the brain’s regulation of foresight, impulse control, and resistance to peer pressure is not fully developed at age 17. Without U.S. Supreme Court review, the brief argues, the Mississippi Supreme Court’s ruling would allow life-without-parole sentences for juvenile homicide offenders to occur frequently in that state, instead of being a rare outcome as the law requires.

See the full brief and 50 current and former federal, state, and local prosecutors and judges who signed it here.