Juvenile Justice

SG: Bureau of Prisons Supplied Wrong Info to SCOTUS in Landmark Juvenile Case


Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal has notified the U.S. Supreme Court that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons supplied incorrect information about six juvenile prisoners that was cited in a recent landmark decision on juvenile sentencing.

The Supreme Court ruled on May 17 in Graham v. Florida that a sentence of life in prison without parole is cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles who have not been charged with murder. The majority opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy cited this statistic: “There are six convicts in the federal prison system serving life without parole sentences for [juvenile] non-homicide crimes.”

Not true, according to Katyal’s letter (PDF), first obtained by The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times and later posted online at the Crime and Consequences blog. Katyal explains that because of time constraints, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons responded to a confidential court request for information by consulting “automated inmate records” rather than other documentation such as presentence reports.

Now a more careful review has found that all six juveniles mentioned in Kennedy’s opinion were either convicted for criminal conspiracies that continued after they reached age 18, or involved killings, the letter says.

The Solicitor General’s office did not submit a brief in the case, and became aware of the information submitted by the Bureau of Prisons after the release of the Supreme Court opinion. The BLT says Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s decision to stay out of the case has been the subject of some controversy. The BLT also notes “the unusual nature of the court’s own data-gathering project.”

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