Life, the Other Death Penalty

Yesterday I posted about the life long consequences early mistakes and, yes, crimes can have for young people convicted. In that post, I was talking primarily about those convicted of non-violent and drug offenses.

This New York Times article shows how slow criminal justice reform is to take root, even when the Supreme Court speaks. In 2010 and 2012, the Supreme Court attempted to limit the use of mandatory life sentences for children, even those convicted of murder, on the argument that children, including those convicted of violent crimes, are capable and deserve a chance at redemption. A broader attack on life sentences is warranted: they are far too common.

Nonetheless, let’s begin with the children

Our brief argued that these sentences are unconstitutional pursuant to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Graham v. Florida, which held that juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to life without parole without a meaningful and realistic opportunity to re-enter society prior to the expiration of their sentences for non-homicide offenses (130 S.Ct. 2011, 2010 (2010)). The Supreme Court based this holding on the fact that the unique characteristics of youth that make children less culpable, in addition to the developmental differences between children and adults, make it more likely that a child can reform.

The Times article cites the case of Shameek Gridine, who, at the age of 14, attempted to rob a man, along with his 12-year-old partner. Gridine pleaded guilty to attempted murder and robbery in Jacksonville, Florida, requiring a sentence of at least 25 years.

Adrian SoudJudge Adrian Soud, who had been out of law school barely 10 years and who had been on the bench less than a year prior to sentencing Shameek. Soud, who had worked with his brother at the Sound Law Firm, which appears to primarily focused on personal injury cases, apparently has a twitter feed.

Stroud’s dad was an elected judge, his mom was an elected city council member, and so he was destined to be elected to preside over his fellow citizens, including kids. This is not to say he couldn’t be a good judge.

In sentencing Shameek, Soud called the crime “heinous”. And certainly it is a terrible crime. But the idea that a 14 year old – or really anyone – necessarily must serve the rest of his life in jail for a crime in which no one died, especially given that the 14 year old had no prior criminal history raises the question of what kind of society we have created.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.