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Debbie O'Leary
IU School of Law--Bloomington

Last modified: Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tipsheet: IU law expert available to comment on juvenile sentencing issue

April 15, 2008

Editors: On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Christopher Pittman, a South Carolina youth sentenced to 30 years in prison without parole for the murder of his grandparents when he was 12 years old. While his lawyers argued that the long sentence violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, an Indiana University School of Law--Bloomington professor explains there is little guidance on such sentences.

Jody Madeira

Jody Madeira

According to Professor Jody Madeira: "Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 'evolving standards of decency' rendered it unconstitutional to execute juvenile offenders in 2005 in Roper v. Simmons, there is currently no consensus -- and very little guidance -- on whether lengthy sentences for juvenile offenders such as Pittman who are tried as adults constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Life sentences -- even sentences of life without parole -- given to violent juvenile offenders as young as 13 to 15 years old have been upheld on appeal. These factors were most likely the key in persuading the Court to decline to hear Pittman's appeal."

Madeira is a research associate at the Capital Punishment Research Initiative at the University at Albany. Her current research projects center upon the effects of capital proceedings and sentences upon victims' families, the role of empathy in personal injury litigation and the impact of recent developments in capital victims' services upon the relationship between victims' families and the criminal justice system. Her current book project explores the ways in which victims' families and survivors came to comprehend and cope with the Oklahoma City bombing through membership in community groups as well as through attendance and participation in Timothy McVeigh's prosecution and execution.

Madeira can be reached at 812-856-1082 or at