News Release

New Guidelines Set Forth Standard in Representing Children Facing Life Sentences

Washington, DC­ (March 11, 2015) -- The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth today released the first-ever guidelines for representing children who face our country's harshest penalty. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) was one of a number of organizations to collaborate with the Campaign on the drafting of  Trial Defense Guidelines: Representing a Child Client Facing a Possible Life Sentence. NACDL's Board of Directors endorsed the Guidelines last month with a specific recommendation that  "in any jurisdiction which permits the imposition of life sentences upon a child, the public and private defense bar should advocate to ensure that these standards are implemented and that the jurisdictions prosecuting those cases provide adequate resources to ensure compliance with these guidelines."

NACDL Executive Director Norman Reimer said: "These standards establish an ethical baseline for what an advocate must do when representing a child who may be locked away for life, and, as importantly, they define the resources that must be made available to those advocates." 

Adolescent development research has documented that children are developmentally different from adults, and the U.S. Supreme Court, drawing in part on this research, has scaled back the use of our most extreme penalties for children. Most recently, the Court ruled in 2012’s Miller v. Alabama that it is a violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment to impose a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for a crime committed by a person younger than 18.

Miller also established factors related to child status that must be considered when a child faces a sentence of life without parole. In such cases, children must receive individualized sentencing hearings during which their age, maturity, role in the crime, history of abuse and neglect and other factors must be considered. However, many court structures and personnel -- including prosecutors and judges -- fail to account for the characteristics of childhood. The objective of the Guidelines is to set forth a national standard of practice to ensure zealous, constitutionally effective representation consistent with the standards established by the Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama. The Guidelines draw from the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases in the capital context and the NJDC National Juvenile Defense standards in the juvenile court context.

As of today, the Guidelines have also been endorsed by: Gideon's Promise, Juvenile Law Center, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Education Fund, National Association of Public Defense, National Juvenile Defender Center, Southern Center on Human Rights, Southern Poverty Law Center, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Case Western Reserve University Schubert Center for Child Studies, Colorado Juvenile Defender Center, Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Connecticut Division of Public Defense Services, Cook County Public Defender's Office, Defender Association of Philadelphia, Delaware Office of the Public Defender, Florida Fourth Circuit Public Defender's Office, Georgetown Law Juvenile Justice, Clinic, Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, Loyola Law School Center for Juvenile Law & Policy, Maricopa County Office of the Public Advocate, Maryland Office of the Public Defender, Massachusetts Youth Advocacy Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Minnesota Board of Public Defense, New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Northwestern University School of Law Children and Family Justice Center, Ohio Children’s Law Center, Ohio Juvenile Justice Center, University of Chicago Law School Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project, University of North Carolina School of Law Youth Justice Clinic, Wyoming Office of the State Public Defender, and Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project.

A complete copy of the Guidelines is available here. Learn more about NACDL's work on juvenile justice here.

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Isaac Kramer, Public Affairs and Communications Assistant, (202) 465-7656 or 

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.