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Florida: End Life Without Parole for Youth Offenders

Letter to Florida Senator Greg Evers

Senator Greg Evers
Chair, Senate Criminal Justice Committee
440 S. Monroe Street
412 Knott Building
Tallahassee, FL 32301

Re: Senate Bill 1350

Dear Senator Evers:

Human Rights Watch urges the Senate Criminal Justice Committee to oppose Senate Bill (SB) 1350, Criminal Penalties. HRW believes that this bill is not compliant with the US Supreme Court’s holding in Miller v. Alabama or Graham v. Florida, and is in violation of international human rights law. 

SB1350 is in violation of human rights law because, in effect, juveniles would still be sentenced to life in prison. HRW opposes life without parole for any youth offender (persons below the age of 18 at the time of offense) for two main reasons.         

First, in four decisions in recent years, the US Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized a fundamental truth recognized by science, international human rights law, and any parent: that kids are different.[1] Science tells us that our brains are not fully developed until our mid- to late-twenties. By failing to provide an opportunity for sentence review after a juvenile offender has had a chance to develop, grow, and change, SB 1350 ignores this science and the Supreme Court’s admonition that states must give youth offenders “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”[2]

Second, the United States is currently the only country in the world that continues to sentence youth offenders to life without parole.[3] The imposition of life without parole sentences for any category of youth offender violates US treaty obligations. The Human Rights Committee (the oversight and enforcement body for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the US ratified in 1992) has said that “sentencing children to life sentences without  parole is of itself not in compliance with article 24(1) of the Covenant.”[4]

There is no question that the current law in Florida regarding life without parole for youth offenders must be reformed. However, SB 1350 is not the way forward. Human Rights Watch urges the members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee to oppose this bill.

 

Sincerely,                                                                                                                          

Alison Parker
Director, US Program
Human Rights Watch

 


[1] Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005); Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010); Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012); JDB v. North Carolina, 131 S. Ct. 2394 (2011).

[2] Graham v. Florida, No. 08-7412, slip. op. at 24.

[3] Connie de la Vega and Michelle Leighton, “Response to Amicus Briefs of Sixteen Members of Congress, the State of Florida, and Solidarity Center with Respect to International Law before the U.S. Supreme Court, Graham v. Florida (08-7412) and Sullivan v. Florida (08-7621),” October 13, 2009, http://www.usfca.edu/law/docs/jlwop/graham/ (accessed April 4, 2013).

[4] UN Human Rights Committee, “Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee on the United States of America,” July 27, 2006, CCCPR/C/USA/CO/3/Rev.1, December 8, 2006, para. 34.

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