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The decision to send a youth to the adult system is a very serious one. Juveniles are different from adults and should be treated as such. The juvenile system is more focused on rehabilitation and provides more support and opportunities for juvenile offenders compared to adult criminal facilities. Substantial research has concluded youth dealt with in the juvenile system are far less likely to commit new crimes than those tried as adults.
Roper v. Simmons (2004) - The United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for a crime committed by a child under the age of 18, stating that it is "cruel and unusual punishment" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.
Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida (2010) - The United States Supreme Court ruled that life without the possibility of parole sentences for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide offenses are unconstitutional.
J.D.B v. North Carolina (2010) - Under consideration in this case was whether a child's age is a relevant factor to consider in determining whether the child is in custody for purposes of Miranda v. Arizona. The United States Supreme Court ruled that a child's age must be considered by law enforcement in determining whether Miranda warnings need to be given to children during police interrogations. NACDL Amicus Brief
Miller v. Alabama (2012) - Under consideration in this case was the constitutionality of imposing life without parole sentences on juveniles convicted of homicide offenses. The United States Supreme Court ruled that "mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on 'cruel and unusual punishments' and that a 'judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penalty for juveniles.'"
Montgomery v. Louisiana (2015) - Under consideration in this case was whether Miller v. Alabama applied retroactively to individuals serving mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences. In a 6-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that their decision in Miller v. Alabama applied retroactively.
Trial Defense Guidelines
NACDL was pleased to assist in the development and sought subsequent Board approval of Trial Defense Guideline: Representing a Child Client Facing a Possible Life Sentence. This valuable resource provides defense attorneys with a standard in defending juveniles who are facing the possibility of a life sentence.
In 2012, NACDL hosted several webinars providing essential instruction to defense lawyers representing juveniles. The first webinar series provides instruction on representing juveniles at sentencing in adult court in the post – Roper, Graham and Miller era. Topics include Lessons Learned from Graham v. Florida and Re-sentencing Juveniles Convicted of Homicide Post-Miller.
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The second webinar series provides strategies for representing juveniles in adult court. Topics include Communicating with a Juvenile Client: JTIP Lesson on Interviewing and Counseling Youth; Incorporating Adolescent Brain & Behavioral Development Science into All Stages of the Criminal Proceeding; and Strategies for Keeping Youth out of Adult Jails and Prisons: Bail, Sentencing and Post-Sentencing Advocacy.
Both series were conducted in partnership with the National Juvenile Defender Center, the Juvenile Law Center, and the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, supported by funding from the Foundation for Criminal Justice and the Ford Foundation.
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Pre-Trial Suppression & Fourth Amendment Issues
This Trial Guide is a topical and practical handbook examining the nuts and bolts of the most current Fourth Amendment & Pre-Trial Suppression issues encountered in modern criminal cases.
Defense Counsel Playbook for Eyewitness ID Cases
This Trial Guide was written to help counsel use existing case law to its strongest advantage, and to create a framework for appellate challenges urging courts to adopt leading cases.
Ultimate Cross 2.0
This special CLE compilation program includes the highest-rated presentations on Cross-Examination techniques from NACDL's most recent seminars (2017-2019).
Forensic Sciences in Criminal Cases: A Multidiscipline Primer
In order to challenge forensic evidence, experts, reports and findings commonly encountered in the courtroom, an attorney must first have a basic understanding of the forensic issues that they will be confronting.
Over the past year there have been several advancements in legislation to transform state juvenile justice systems. Raise the age legislation continues to advance with Missouri raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18-years-old (SB 793 and SB 800). Delaware legislation addressed mandatory minimum sentencing schemes for youth (HB 307), as well as expanded the Juvenile Civil Citation Program to provide law enforcement officers with the discretion to refer any first-time juvenile offender engaged in any misdemeanor-level behavior to the civil citation program (HB 442). Massachusetts passed an omnibus criminal justice reform measure that included critical juvenile justice related measures including creating opportunities for expungement of misdemeanors and most felony offenses before age 21, decriminalizing school-based public order offenses and banning indiscriminate shackling of children in court (S. 2371). To date, Twenty-eight states and Washington, DC ban or do not use life without parole for children.
See below for pending legislation NACDL is tracking related to juvenile justice reform.
December 2018, Congress passed major juvenile justice reform legislation - the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 (H.R. 6964). The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was first signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1974. It is the only federal statute that sets out national standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system. The JJDPA was last reauthorized in 2002 and expired in 2007.
There was several bills tackling juvenile justice reforms pending in Congress. This includes legislation to address the use of mandatory minimum sentences on children in the federal system (H.R. 1949) and legislation that would end life (and de facto life) without parole sentences for children (H.R. 1951), bringing the federal government in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in Graham v. Florida, Miller v. Alabama, and Montgomery v. Louisiana. Visit NACDL's legislative action center for more information on pending federal legislation NACDL is tracking related to juvenile justice.
- "Opinion: Youth prisons are ineffective and should have closed long before the coronavirus hit,"
- "Opinion: The post-pandemic juvenile justice system could be more equitable. Will we choose that?,"
- "Illinois Has Promised to “Infuse Love” in Its Juvenile Justice System, but What Will Actually Change?,"
Most Recent News Releases
News Release ~ 01/25/2016
Supreme Court Ban on Mandatory Juvenile Life Without Parole Strengthened, Made Retroactive -- Washington, DC (Jan. 25, 2016) -- In a case revisiting its landmark 2012 juvenile justice decision in Miller v. Alabama, today the United States Supreme Court ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its holding in Miller prohibiting mandatory life without parole for juveniles is a substantive rule of Constitutional law and therefore retroactive in cases of state collateral review.
- News Release ~ 03/11/2015
News Release ~ 08/16/2012
Cal. Supreme Court Holds 110-Year Sentence For Juvenile Defendant Was ‘Cruel and Unusual’ -- Washington, DC (Aug. 16, 2012) – The California Supreme Court today held today that sentencing a juvenile to imprisonment – a term of years – with a parole eligibility date that falls past his natural life expectancy violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Juvenile Justice Media Items
Race and the Juvenile Justice System
Presented by Alisa Rachelle Blair, Deputy Public Defender, Los Angeles County Public Defender
Race Matters II: The Impact of Race on Criminal Justice
January 10-11, 2019 | Los Angeles, CA
[see materials attached]
Advocacy Call on Montgomery v. Louisiana
On January 25, 2016, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana that Miller v. Alabama would apply retroactively. These two cases concern the unconstitutionality of juveniles being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. On Thursday, February 11, 2016, guests Marsha Levick, Deputy Director and Chief Counsel of the Juvenile Law Center and Jody Kent Lavy, Director and National Coordinator, Fair Sentencing of Youth discussed the decision and implications for state level advocacy. Audio of the call and resources will be posted soon.
Learn more about NACDL's State Criminal Justice Network. Angelyn C. Frazer-Giles, Host. Doug Shaner, production supervisor. Music I Will! Rise Above (Jared C. Balogh) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
Advocacy Call on Juvenile Life Without Parole
The National Advocacy Call on Developing Legislation in June featured a discussion on sentencing and re-sentencing Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP) cases post Miller. Speakers included, LaShunda Hill, state strategist, and John Hardenberg, Litigation Specialist both with the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and Marc Bookman the Director of Atlantic Center for Capital Representation. Learn more about NACDL's State Criminal Justice Network. Angelyn C. Frazer, Host. Steven Logan, production supervisor. Music I Will! Rise Above (Jared C. Balogh) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.