On April 13, 2015, in a groundbreaking case that guaranteed important rights for juveniles across Illinois, Loevy & Loevy attorney Rachel Steinback and Patricia Soung, a staff attorney and instructor at the Center for Juvenile Lay & Policy at Loyola Law School argued Cook County’s first resentencing hearing of a juvenile offender sentenced to a mandatory term of life without parole. When Adolfo Davis was 14 years old, he was ordered by two older gang members to act as “lookout” in what he believed would be a non-lethal robbery. Adolfo never shot anyone, but when two people were killed during the robbery, he was charged and convicted as an accomplice to this double homicide. In 1993, Adolfo received a mandatory life sentence with no possibility of parole – the sentencing judge was not permitted to consider Adolfo’s youthful age, his limited role in the offense, the influence of his older co-defendants, or the fact that he lived his short life in circumstances of extreme poverty and neglect. In the nearly 25 years that Adolfo has been incarcerated for this crime, he has taken full responsibility for his role in it and has dedicated himself to making amends. The strength and sincerity of Adolfo’s rehabilitative efforts over the past 15 years prompted an outpouring of support from clergy, mental health professionals, and victims of the robbery, all supporting Adolfo’s plea for a new sentence of time-served. Adolfo’s recent resentencing hearing included powerful testimony from Father Dave Kelly, who has known Adolfo for more than two decades, who has enlisted Adolfo in his work counseling at-risk youth, and who has guaranteed Adolfo a job upon his release, and from former federal judge and Congressman Abner Mikva, who supports resentencing Adolfo to time-served.
The United States is the only country in the world that sentences juvenile offenders to life without parole. Approximately 2570 children have been sentenced to life in this country, some receiving the sentence when they were as young as 13 years old. In most instances, juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences were imposed in states where that sentence was required by law – as in Adolfo’s case, the law mandated a life sentence without permitting the judge to factor in any considerations about the child’s age, challenges, or circumstances. In Miller v. Alabama (2012), the U.S. Supreme Court found that such mandatory JLWOP sentences are unconstitutional, but the Court did not declare whether its decision was retroactive. Thus, at least for now, the juvenile lifers’ fates now depend on the state in which they were convicted. Ten states, including Illinois, have decided to apply Miller retroactively and to provide individualized resentencing hearings to juveniles serving mandatory sentences of life without parole; regrettably, five states have decided that Miller does not apply to defendants who have already been sentenced. Since it costs approximately $2.5 million to incarcerate a child for life in the United States, the JLWOP sentences takes a toll in taxpayer dollars, as well as the human toll of locking up children for life for crimes committed before their adult judgment could develop.
The uniquely American practice of sentencing juvenile offenders to life without parole has garnered international outrage. A joint study by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch noted:
- an estimated 59% of JLWOP sentences are the offender’s first-ever criminal conviction;
- 16% of JLWOP recipients were between 13 and 15 years old at the time of their crimes;
- about 26% of JLWOP sentences are imposed on teens who were convicted only as an accomplice;
- the estimated rate at which black youth receive JLWOP sentences is 10 times greater than the rate for white youth.
Civil rights lawyers hope that Adolfo’s resentencing will pave the way for the roughly 100 other offenders in Illinois who received unconstitutional mandatory life without parole sentences. Continuing the effort, this summer, Loevy & Loevy attorney David Owens will present the compelling resentencing case of Javell Ivory, a teenager who was sentenced to life without parole for being present in the offending vehicle during a drive-by shooting, although the prosecution conceded that “no evidence was presented that [Ivory] personally fired any weapons, had acted as look out, otherwise actively participated in the shooting.”
The judge in Adolfo’s case is expected to rule on May 4, 2015. A newsclip depicting some of the testimony and arguments from Mr. Davis’ resentencing hearing is available.