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Authorities in the United States must ban the imposition of life without parole sentences against children and review the cases of more than 2,500 prisoners currently serving such sentences to bring the sentences into line with international law, Amnesty International said today in a new report.
"In the United States, people under 18 cannot vote, buy alcohol or lottery tickets or consent to most forms of medical treatment, but they can be sentenced to die in prison for their actions. This needs to change," said Natacha Mension, U. S. campaigner at Amnesty International (AI).
Children as young as 11 at the time of the crime have faced life imprisonment without parole in the United States - the only country in the world to impose this sentence on children.
Amnesty International's 34-page report 'This is where I'm going to be when I die': Children facing life imprisonment without the possibility of release in the United States, illustrates the issue through the stories of Christi Cheramie, Jacqueline Montanez and David Young.
In the United States, life without parole can be imposed on juvenile offenders as a mandatory punishment - without consideration of mitigating factors such as history of abuse or trauma, degree of involvement in the crime, mental health status, or amenability to rehabilitation.
"We are not excusing crimes committed by children or minimizing their consequences, but the simple reality is that these sentences ignore the special potential for rehabilitation and change that young offenders have," said Mension.
In May 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court said life without parole is "an especially harsh punishment for a juvenile," as the young offender will serve, on average, more years and a greater percentage of his life in prison than an older offender. "A 16-year-old and a 75-year-old each sentenced to life without parole receive the same punishment in name only," the Court said.
Eighteen months after prohibiting this sentence for non-homicide crimes committed by under-18-year-olds, on November 8, 2011, the Supreme Court agreed to consider this issue in relation to crimes involving murder. It will not issue a decision until the second quarter of 2012 at the earliest.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which entered into force more than two decades ago, expressly prohibits the imposition of life imprisonment without the possibility of release for offenses, however serious, committed by people under 18 years old. All countries except the United States and Somalia have ratified the Convention.
"It is long past time for the United States to ratify the Convention without reservations or other limiting conditions and to fully implement its prohibition on the use of life imprisonment without release against children, including in relation to the cases of those already sentenced," said Mension.
On November 30, Christi Cheramie, who is serving life without parole in Louisiana, will submit an application for executive clemency with the state Board of Pardons. Christi was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release in 1994, when she was 16 years old for the killing of her 18-year-old fiance's great aunt.
She pleaded guilty just before her trial in adult court began, fearing she could be sentenced to death if the trial went ahead. Her guilty plea prevents her from directly appealing her conviction or sentence.
A psychiatrist who saw Christi prior to her trial said that she was a "depressed, dependent, and insecure" 16-year-old who "seems to have been fearful of crossing" her fiance, who she maintains committed the crime. Christi's childhood was marked by sexual abuse. At the age of 13, she was hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic after trying to commit suicide on at least two occasions.
After spending half of her life in prison, Christi believes she has changed in many ways. She has obtained a high school equivalency diploma, a degree in agricultural studies, and teaches a number of classes at the prison. A warden has stated that she is "worthy of a second chance." View a video of Christi's grandmother and her conversation with Christi here:
Christi will be among 15 people for whom Amnesty International activists worldwide will be taking action as part of Write for Rights - the Global Write-a-Thon on December 3 - 11. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide will be educated about Christi's case and asked to call on Governor Jindal to help. In the United States, more than 35,000 people are expected to participate in this annual event. https://www.amnestyusa.org/writeathon
Additionally, on Dec. 3 in New Orleans, Amnesty International USA, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, the Louisiana Interfaith Conference and Citizens for Second Chances will hold an event from 4 to 7 pm with a candlelight vigil, music and speakers focusing on Christi's case at St. Anna's Episcopal Church, 1313 Esplanade Avenue. For more information visit www.jjpl.org
A clemency campaign is also pending for a second person whose case is profiled in AI's report. Jacqueline Montanez is the only woman in Illinois serving a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a crime committed as a child. A victim of child abuse, Jacqueline began abusing drugs and alcohol at the age of nine. Jacqueline's abuser was her step-father, a gang leader, who also involved her in the drug trade as a very young child and groomed her to be his "little soldier." After running away from home and joining a rival gang, she and two older women shot and killed two adult male members of her step-father's gang.
Because she was 15 at the time of the crime and charged with first degree murder, she was automatically tried in adult criminal court. This denied the court system the opportunity of conducting a transfer hearing to determine whether her case ought to have been tried in juvenile court where factors such as her young age, home environment or amenability to rehabilitation would have been considered. Jacqueline was also automatically sentenced to life without parole due to her conviction; the sentencing court had no discretion to consider her history, her age, the circumstances of the offense or her potential for rehabilitation.
Now 35 years old, she expresses deep remorse for her actions and believes that she has grown into a very different person. She has obtained a high school equivalency diploma and has become a certified trainer of service dogs for disabled people. She grieves for her victims and the pain that their families have suffered.
In Illinois, 80 percent of children in prison for life without parole received mandatory sentences; about 82 percent are prisoners of color. That number is even higher in Cook County, where the Montanez case originated. These findings were published by the Illinois Coalition on the Fair Sentencing of Children in its 2008 report Categorically Less Culpable, Children Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Illinois. https://www.law.northwestern.edu/cfjc/jlwop/documents/JLWOP_Report.pdf
Jacqueline's petition for executive clemency will be submitted to the Illinois governor and the Prisoner Review Board in January 2012.
David Young is one of two teenagers arrested and charged for the murder of Charles Welch in 1997. He was automatically charged in adult criminal court as required by North Carolina law for any criminal offense committed by anyone age 16 or older. Young's co-defendant, who shot the victim, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 19 to 23 years in prison. David was convicted of first-degree felony murder and was sentenced to life without parole.
Young grew up in a hostile community environment where his parents abused drugs and his stepfather physically abused him and his mother. Now 32 years old, Young obtained his high school equivalency diploma and is in solitary confinement after being stabbed by two prisoners.
Amnesty International is a global movement of millions of people demanding human rights for all people - no matter who they are or where they are. We are the world's largest grassroots human rights organization.(212) 807-8400
"The single biggest threat to the U.S. banking system is more concentration," said the Massachusetts Democrat. "A bank as big as JPMorgan shouldn't be allowed to get even bigger."
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised alarm about the recent sale of First Republic Bank to JPMorgan Chase—which followed a government takeover of the former—in a letter to financial regulators and a series of questions during a Thursday hearing.
"The failure of First Republic Bank shows how deregulation has made the too-big-to-fail problem even worse," the Massachusetts Democrat said after the controversial sale earlier this month. "Congress needs to make major reforms to fix a broken banking system."
Ahead of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing, Warren wrote to two officials who appeared before the panel Thursday morning: Martin Gruenberg, chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and Michael Hsu, acting head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC).
"The executives at First Republic—who took excessive risks and did not appropriately manage them as interest rates increased throughout 2022 and 2023—bear primary responsibility for this failure," Warren wrote in the letter, dated Wednesday. "I am continuing to seek answers from the bank's executives, and attempting to pass bipartisan legislation that would claw back their excessive compensation."
"But the outcome of this seizure and sale were deeply troubling: It resulted in a $13 billion cost to the Federal Deposit Insurance Fund—which will ultimately be passed on to ordinary bank consumers across the country—and made JPMorgan, the nation's biggest bank, even bigger," she added. "JPMorgan will also record a $2.6 billion gain from the deal."
Warren asked Gruenberg and Hsu to prepare to address the topic at the committee's hearing and also requested written responses to a series of questions by the end of the month.
"One set of questions involves the $13 billion loss to the Federal Deposit Insurance Fund, and why the fund was allowed to take this loss while the FDIC deal made nearly $50 billion worth of uninsured deposits at First Republic—including $30 billion in uninsured deposits from big banks—whole," she noted. "My second set of concerns involves the decision to choose JPMorgan—which was already the nation's largest bank—to acquire First Republic and become even bigger."
During the hearing, Warren explained that "when the FDIC sells a failed bank, the law requires that you choose the highest bidder that will result in the lowest cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund—but the law also requires signoff from the OCC, and the OCC's job, by law, is to consider whether the merger would pose 'risk to the stability of the United States banking or financial system.'"
The senator questioned Hsu about the decision to sell to JPMorgan versus PNC or Citizens Bank, given that selling to either of the latter would have posed less of a risk, based on one metric used by financial regulators that is notably influenced by bank size.
\u201cThe single biggest threat to the U.S. banking system is more concentration. I am troubled by @USOCC Acting Comptroller Michael Hsu's decision to approve @jpmorgan's acquisition of First Republic Bank. A bank as big as JP Morgan shouldn't be allowed to get even bigger.\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1684436759
"Comptroller Hsu, your job, by law, is to determine risk to the system from making big banks even bigger, and you have a clear metric for doing that," Warren said. "So how do you explain approving a sale to a banking giant that increases the risk to the banking system by somewhere between nearly 800% and 1,400% more than selling to other bidders? Did you just ignore the fact that a failure at JPMorgan would blow a hole in our banking system... and let them grow by $200 billion?"
After insisting that "for every merger application we follow the law, we follow our guidelines, we follow our policies and procedures," Hsu said focusing only on the metric Warren cited would not have been "wise," and if that approach had been taken, "I fear that there would have been greater financial instability that weekend."
As her time expired, Warren—who was visibly frustrated by Hsu's lack of a broader explanation for choosing JPMorgan Chase—declared that "the single biggest threat to the U.S. banking system is concentration."
"We're all pushing harder for merger guidelines so that we don't get more concentration in the banking system," she told Hsu. "You are the one person who was supposed to use judgment on the question... 'Between multiple sales, which one was the right one to go with, and which one presented more risk to the banking system?'"
"According to your own metric, you chose the one that gives us more concentration in the system," the senator stressed. "I am very troubled by that decision."
"It is an exhibition of unadulterated hate and racism," said one Palestinian activist. "Beyond inflammatory."
Israeli government officials including far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir joined tens of thousands of ultra-nationalists participating in Thursday's inflammatory "Flag March" in occupied East Jerusalem, an event at which police and demonstrators attacked Palestinians and journalists while chanting slogans including "death to Arabs" and "your village will be burned."
Ben-Gvir, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, and Transport Minister Miri Regev were among the Israeli officials who took part in the annual march, which celebrates Israel's conquest and illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Marcher Limor Son Har-Melech, a lawmaker from Ben Gvir's far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, toldThe Times of Israel that she was participating to celebrate "our victory over the Arabs."
\u201cWhen referring to the upcoming \u201cJerusalem Day\u201d or flag day march, this is what we\u2019re talking about: an anti-Palestinian hate fest that includes attacking homes, businesses & Palestinians. It is an exhibition of unadulterated hate and racism. Beyond inflammatory. Video from 2021\u201d— Nour Odeh \ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf8 #NojusticeNopeace (@Nour Odeh \ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf8 #NojusticeNopeace) 1684359874
In Gaza, Israeli forces used live and "less lethal" munitions to break up a Palestinian demonstration that took place along the besieged strip's border with Israel, according toAl Jazeera.
"We will not surrender and we will continue to demand our rights and defend our occupied lands and our sanctities in Jerusalem," Palestinian protester Osama Abu Qamar told the Qatar-based news network.
The Jerusalem-based NGO Ir Amim called the Israeli demonstrations a "display of incitement, Jewish dominance, and racism."
Israeli marchers threw rocks at journalists, hitting at least two reporters in the head and wounding them, Middle East Eyereports.
\u201cUs journalists are under attack by participants in the flag march in #Jerusalem. \n\nThey cheer every time they hit us with projectiles.\u201d— \u211d\ud835\udd60\ud835\udd64\ud835\udd5a\ud835\udd56 \ud835\udd4a\ud835\udd54\ud835\udd52\ud835\udd5e\ud835\udd5e\ud835\udd56\ud835\udd5d\ud835\udd5d (@\u211d\ud835\udd60\ud835\udd64\ud835\udd5a\ud835\udd56 \ud835\udd4a\ud835\udd54\ud835\udd52\ud835\udd5e\ud835\udd5e\ud835\udd56\ud835\udd5d\ud835\udd5d) 1684421979
Middle East Eye said that marchers in Jerusalem's Old City beat Palestinian residents, and when Israeli police intervened, they assaulted Palestinian victims under attack instead of protecting them.
March participants stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque—one of the holiest sites to both Muslims and Jews—and insulted the prophet Mohammed, who Muslims believe was the messenger of God.
Ofer Cassif, an Israeli lawmaker from the left-wing Hadash coalition, called the flag march a "violent parade presented as a joyous dance."
"Rioting gangs backed by Ben-Gvir and the fascist government are bullying Arabs to show them who's in charge, "Cassif told Haaretz. "This is disgusting Kahanism in its peak."
\u201cIsrael's right wing uses Flag Day to violently remind Palestinians each year that Israel will stop at nothing to kick them out of their own homeland.\n\nThey fly Israel's national symbol as a symbol of Palestinian exclusion.\n\nThat's apartheid.\u201d— IMEU (@IMEU) 1684421511
Cassif was referring to the Jewish supremacist movement once led by Meir Kahane, the Orthodox rabbi convicted of terrorism before being assassinated in 1990. Ben-Gvir was convicted in 2007 of incitement to racism and supporting the Kahanist terror group Kach after he advocated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
There were other Israeli marches in cities and towns including Lod—known to Palestinians as Lydda—site of a 1948 massacre and death march as Jewish militias seized control of the area.
Thursday's marches came three days after, and stood in stark contrast with, Palestinians' commemoration of Nakba Day, a remembrance of the ethnic cleansing of more than 750,000 Arabs from over 400 villages—sometimes by massacres—during the foundation of the modern Israeli state in 1948. For the first time ever, the United Nations officially commemorated the Nakba.
"Today's decisions should be commended for recognizing that the rules we apply to the internet should foster free expression, not suppress it," said the deputy director of ACLU's National Security Project.
Civil liberties advocates on Thursday praised the U.S. Supreme Court for a pair of unanimous rulings that they say uphold the right to free speech on online platforms.
The high court's decisions in Twitter v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v. Google represent "a win for free expression on the internet," the ACLU tweeted.
Alongside its partners, the ACLU "filed amicus briefs in both cases urging the court to ensure online platforms are free to promote, demote, and recommend content without legal risk in order to protect political discourse, cultural development, and intellectual activity," the group noted in a statement.
"Free speech online lives to fight another day," said Patrick Toomey, deputy director of ACLU's National Security Project. "Twitter and other apps are home to an immense amount of protected speech, and it would be devastating if those platforms resorted to censorship to avoid a deluge of lawsuits over their users' posts. Today's decisions should be commended for recognizing that the rules we apply to the internet should foster free expression, not suppress it."
According to ACLU's statement:
In Twitter v. Taamneh, the plaintiffs claimed that Twitter was liable for allegedly "aiding and abetting" an attack in Istanbul by ISIS because Twitter failed to adequately block or remove content promoting terrorism — even though it had no specific knowledge that any particular post furthered a terrorist act. The court held that hosting, displaying, and recommending videos, without more, is not aiding and abetting terrorism.
As the ACLU's amicus brief in Twitter v. Taamneh explained, if the Supreme Court allowed the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' startlingly broad interpretation of the Anti-Terrorism Act to stand, online intermediaries—like internet service providers, social media platforms, publishers, and other content distributors—would be forced to suppress the First Amendment-protected speech of many of their users. The brief explained that, given the vast scale of speech occurring on platforms like Twitter every day, online intermediaries would be compelled to use blunt content moderation tools that over-restrict speech by barring certain topics, speakers, or types of content in order to avoid claims that they went too far in making that information available to an interested audience. Even today, platforms frequently take down content mistakenly identified as offensive or forbidden, for example, by confusing a post about a landmark mosque with one about a terrorist group.
In Gonzalez v. Google, the court noted that in light of its decision in Twitter v. Taamneh, "little if any" of the plaintiffs' case remained viable. It was therefore unnecessary to address the question of whether Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunized the platform's recommendation algorithms. The court remanded the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to determine whether any part of the plaintiffs' argument could move forward in light of the Twitter ruling.
David Greene, director of civil liberties at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), also welcomed the court's rulings in both cases.
EFF is "pleased that the court found that an online service cannot be liable for terrorist attacks merely because their services are generally used by terrorist organizations the same way they are used by millions of organizations around the globe," Greene said in a statement.
He added that EFF is "pleased that the court did not address or weaken Section 230, which remains an essential part of the architecture of the modern internet and will continue to enable user access to online platforms."
Section 230 is a federal liability shield that generally prevents social media and other websites from facing defamation lawsuits or being held accountable for third-party content generated by users or paid advertisers. The immunity provision has come under increased scrutiny from many members of Congress in both major parties.
One countervailing opinion about the court's decision to not reexamine Section 230 came from the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a coalition of researchers and advocates who seek to counter the harms associated with the profit-maximizing algorithms used by Facebook and Instagram, both of which are now owned by Meta.
"Meta wasn't on trial today in the Supreme Court, but their rapacious business model was," the group said in a statement. "In no surprise, the extremist U.S. Supreme Court chose profit over privacy and safety. More than ever, U.S. lawmakers must act to pass sweeping, meaningful regulation of Big Tech—before more users are harmed or worse by hate speech that platforms won't and can't stop."
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), however, echoed the assessment shared by the ACLU and EFF, calling the court's decision to leave Section 230 untouched "good news."
"Despite being unfairly scapegoated for everything wrong with the internet, Section 230 remains vitally important to protecting online speech," argued Wyden, who co-wrote the 1996 statute with former Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.). "My focus remains helping end abusive practices by tech companies while protecting freedom of information online."
According toPolitico, the high court's decisions "mark a major win for the tech industry, which has argued that narrowing Section 230 could be disastrous for the internet if platforms could be sued over content-moderation decisions. But the resolution leaves the door open to future showdowns—potentially in Congress—over the breadth of the legal protection the internet firms enjoy."