“The United States is the only country in the world that permits youth to be sentenced to life without parole.”
— The Juvenile Law Center
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’m just a small town prosecutor but I don’t want you to think about this as a closing argument. Think of this as a celebration of our American values. I want this jury to vote for freedom, opportunity, and a life sentence for this 16-year-old with no actual possibility of parole.
Our criminal justice system is built on second chances. You go into prison and you come out a better member of society. But we on the prosecution believe that the defendant, whose brain is still developing and hasn’t lived to legal adulthood is “irreparably corrupt” and “permanently incorrigible.” Legally, the prosecution doesn’t have to give a reason. I’m just a simple man who’s scared of criminals, especially if they are too young to have taken the SAT, gone to prom, or remember when Friends was on the air.
After all, this court is in one of the 29 states where we sentence children as young as 14 to life sentences. Oh, and the District of Columbia! So if you, the jury, are as terrified of this child as I am, let’s lock him up for a century or even two. In the past, the court has given a 16-year-old boy 241 years in prison, so 200 years is a relatively light sentence. That’s just what we in the legal business call a precedent, something that happens because it’s happened before so no one critically questions it. Like the Mission Impossible movies.
Is 200 years essentially a death sentence? Well, we can talk about that at his parole hearing in 2218 if we all figure out how to live that long. Maybe we could be brains in a jar?
Right now, there are about 2100 individuals incarcerated as juveniles who are sentenced to life without parole. Many of these kids have histories of mental health issues or abuse, and often they commit crimes because of this history. So the safest place we can think of for them is an adult jail facility.
Yes, I know the defendant is a young black man but no, we on the prosecution are not racist! Yes, all of the children sentenced for non-violent crimes are of color, but that’s probably just because black and brown children scare me and you, this mostly white jury.
Now, I know there are some out there that don’t agree with me. Apparently, so-called experts say trying children as adults and sentencing them for terms that far exceed the average human lifespan is wrong. These pesky brain scientists and human rights attorneys say it goes against “a basic understanding of neurological development,” “human decency,” and “international law.” But I’m not asking you, the jury, to think about “scientific evidence” or “UN sanctions” with your “fully developed” brains! I’m asking you to incarcerate this child with your heart, like an American.
Because that’s what Americans do: we buck trends and international norms! That’s why Michigan’s prosecutors want to keep 181 inmates sentenced while juveniles in jail for life! That’s why Louisiana is still seeking life without parole for 82 minors whose sentences were struck down by a 2016 Supreme Court Decision. And that’s why the world’s largest ball of twine is in Kansas—you can’t untangle that logic.
Besides, it’s not like we’re killing the defendant! The Supreme Court said we can’t execute anyone who committed a crime while under 18 in 2005. I want this defendant to live. I’m just asking that he never get to contribute to or live in society again.