A judge who imposed a life-without-parole sentence on a man who executed a woman in a fast-food restaurant parking lot when he was 16 did not violate constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, a State Court of Appeals panel ruled Tuesday.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David A. Hansher properly considered the youth of Jevon D. Jackson when he sentenced Jackson to life plus 32 years in prison in August 1995. Jackson is eligible for parole at age 101.
Hansher properly rejected Jackson's post-conviction motion to be resentenced, the panel said in an opinion written by Appeals Judge William W. Brash III. He was joined Appeals Judge Kitty K. Brennan and Timothy C. Dugan.
Jackson was convicted of murdering a woman in front of her 10-year-old daughter in the parking lot of a Milwaukee fast food restaurant. He was tried as an adult.
Jackson, who confessed to the crime, said he and a friend planned to rob people. Jackson and his friend went to the fast-food restaurant and watched the woman and her duaghter come out, carrying food.
The two boys ordered the victim and her daughter to give them their food, which they did. Jackson ordered the woman to get down on her knees and give him her money. The victim said she did not have any money, and looked at Jackson out of the corner of her eye. Jackson shot her in the head.
He said later the victim "had an attitude."
Jackson's case illustrates the tensions inherent in life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. Should young people be locked up without ever having a chance at parole, even if that means they will spend much more time in prison than an adult sentenced to life without parole?
Do recent advances in adolescent brain science definitively show enough differences in younger brains to mean that judges should not ever lock up youths for life without a meaningful chance for parole?
The U.S. Supreme Court seemed in recent years to be edging toward "yes."
That court, in Miller v. Alabama, ruled in 2012 that that mandatory life sentences with no chance for parole for juvenile offenders violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel or unusual punishment.
In another case, Montgomery v. Louisiana, decided in 2016, the Court said the Miller ruling applied to juveniles who were sentenced before the ruling was made.
Those two cases were rooted in the Court's earlier determination that “developments in psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds.”
Jackson, in his case, argued that the decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court meant that he should be resentenced.
The state appeals panel, though, rejected the argument.
The U.S. Supreme Court decisions "did not categorically prohibit sentences of life imprisonment without parole for juveniles as long as the distinctive characteristics of a juvenile offender are taken into consideration," Brash wrote.
"That is precisely what the trial court did here," he said. "When sentencing Jackson, the court specifically stated that it was taking Jackson’s 'youthfulness' into consideration. It further considered his character, personality, and social traits, as well as his relationship with his family, his education, and his work history, as described in the PSI (pre-sentence investigation). The court also noted Jackson’s psychological evaluation which found no indications of psychopathology. Additionally, the court discussed Jackson’s rehabilitative needs, characterizing them as 'very limited.'”
Jackson's sentence was severe, but not "disproportionately so based on the circumstances of the crime," Brash said.
Brash also said the panel was bound by a State Supreme Court precedent that rejected the new adolescent brain development research was a new factor warranting sentence modification.
The State Supreme Court determined that such research "was merely confirming the fact that there are fundamental differences between the minds of juveniles and adults, a fact that the United States Supreme Court had already recognized," Brash wrote.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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