Life without Parole, or a Juvenile Death Sentence?

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

In the recent case of State v. Andrews, the Supreme Court of Missouri faced the issue of whether sentencing a fifteen-year-old juvenile to imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole violated the Eighth Amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishment. (1) The court ultimately decided two issues: first, whether Missouri's juvenile certification proceeding violated the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Apprendi v. New Jersey, (2) and second, whether the sentence was inherently unconstitutional. (3) In deciding the first issue, the court interpreted the scope of the Apprendi decision as not applying to the state's juvenile certification process. (4) As for the second issue, the court held that it was constitutional to sentence a juvenile to life in prison without the possibility of parole once that individual has been certified as an adult and has been convicted of first-degree murder. (5) By ruling in this manner, the Supreme Court of Missouri has ensured that the only punishment available to juveniles convicted of first-degree murder is a life in jail without any possibility of probation or parole regardless of any rehabilitation by the prisoner.

Looking ahead, the decision in Andrews could prove consequential in that it places an unbelievably high importance on the juvenile certification process, which is a process done without any jury determination. While the court was likely correct in interpreting Apprendi and subsequent case law, the result of the court's ruling is that a single judge will decide whether juvenile murderers, like Antonio Andrews, are to be tried as adults and thus face life in prison. Furthermore, in deciding that juveniles can be sentenced to life in prison, the court has virtually done away with the penological goal of rehabilitation.

Part II of this Note will look at the court's decision to allow juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole. In doing so, this Note will outline the policies underlying the U.S. Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. Next, Part III of this Note will survey more broadly the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the Eighth Amendment in terms of life without parole as well as death penalty cases. Part IV of this Note will then look at the reasoning of the majority and the dissent in the instant case. Finally, Part V of this Note will attempt to reconcile the reasoning of the instant case with the "evolving standards of decency" that mark Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, ultimately concluding that the Andrews court arrived at the wrong decision under the Eighth Amendment and appropriate precedent at the expense of Missouri's youth. In the end, it may come down to the Missouri legislature to correct this problem by updating Missouri's statute that punishes juvenile murderers.

II. Facts and Holding

Fifteen-year-old Antonio Andrews and three of his friends were hanging out together in St. Louis, Missouri, on August 15, 2007. (6) Andrews and one of his friends, Lamont Johnson, made the ill-fated decision to walk to a restaurant to pick up some food. (7) In yet another ill-fated decision, Andrews asked for and received from one of his friends a .38 caliber pistol. (8) On their way to the restaurant, officer Norvelle Brown tried to stop and question the two young boys. (9) For whatever reason, possibly because Andrews was carrying the pistol, the boys fled. (10) Officer Brown pursued the boys in his patrol car, frustrating Andrews and leading him to tell his friend, Johnson, that he was "tired of [Officer Brown] chasing us." (11) Andrews stopped in a vacant lot and waited for Officer Brown. (12) When Officer Brown arrived at the lot and exited his patrol car, Andrews pulled out the .38 caliber pistol and shot officer Brown in the back, killing him. (13)

At the time of the killing of officer Brown, Antonio Andrews was fifteen years old, and thus the Missouri juvenile justice system had exclusive original jurisdiction over him. …