CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Janes on State Constitutions and Extreme Sentencing of Emerging Adults

Katharine M. Janes has posted Life or Death: Employing State Constitutional Principles of Proportionality to Combat the Extreme Sentencing of Emerging Adults (Virginia Law Review, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that, when facing criminal punishment, juvenile offenders must be treated differently from adults. Because those under the age of eighteen lack maturity, have heightened vulnerability to external influence, and possess a unique capacity for rehabilitation, the imposition of extreme sentences—including the death penalty, mandatory life without parole, and discretionary life without parole for non-homicide offenses—is disproportionate and unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

Emerging neuroscientific research strongly indicates that the immaturity, impressionability, and corrigibility of juveniles are also characteristics of emerging adults, defined here as individuals ages eighteen through twenty. Courts, however, have consistently resisted extending Federal Eighth Amendment protections to this demographic. As such, this Note proposes challenging the extreme sentencing of emerging adults as disproportionate under state, instead of federal, constitutional law. All fifty states prohibit cruel and/or unusual punishment, or its equivalent, in their state constitution. Further, recent litigation in Washington and Illinois demonstrates how successful challenges to disproportionate emerging-adult sentencing under state constitutional law can be achieved. This Note advocates that litigants launch facial challenges, in particular, under state constitutional provisions as a desirable mechanism for change.

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