Life or Death: Employing State Constitutional Principles of Proportionality to Combat the Extreme Sentencing of Emerging Adults

50 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2022 Last revised: 2 Dec 2022

See all articles by Katharine M. Janes

Katharine M. Janes

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Date Written: December 14, 2020

Abstract

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that, when facing criminal punishment, juvenile offenders must be treated differently from adults. Because those under the age of eighteen lack maturity, have heightened vulnerability to external influence, and possess a unique capacity for rehabilitation, the imposition of extreme sentences—including the death penalty, mandatory life without parole, and discretionary life without parole for non-homicide offenses—is disproportionate and unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

Emerging neuroscientific research strongly indicates that the immaturity, impressionability, and corrigibility of juveniles are also characteristics of emerging adults, defined here as individuals ages eighteen through twenty. Courts, however, have consistently resisted extending Federal Eighth Amendment protections to this demographic. This Note therefore proposes challenging the extreme sentencing of emerging adults under state, instead of federal, constitutional law. All fifty states prohibit cruel and/or unusual punishment, or its equivalent, in their state constitution. Further, recent litigation in Washington and Illinois demonstrates how successful challenges to disproportionate emerging-adult sentencing under state constitutional law can be achieved. This Note advocates that litigants launch facial challenges, in particular, under state constitutional provisions as a desirable mechanism for change.

Keywords: Juvenile law, emerging adulthood, state constitutional law, federal constitutional law

Suggested Citation

Janes, Katharine M., Life or Death: Employing State Constitutional Principles of Proportionality to Combat the Extreme Sentencing of Emerging Adults (December 14, 2020). 108 Va. L. Rev. 1897 (2022), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4196557

Katharine M. Janes (Contact Author)

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ( email )

230 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10169
United States

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