Appeals Update 9 – The Second Amicus Brief In Support of Layman and Sparks


The second amicus brief filed in support of Levi Sparks and Blake Layman is a collaborative effort by The Juvenile Law Center, The Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth and the Children’s Law Center.

These organisations have been active for a number of years and file amicus briefs nation wide in important cases involving juvenile justice.  These organisations were instrumental in four very important US Supreme Court cases in the last 9 years that has had a significant change on juvenile justice in the USA.

The amicus brief in support of Layman and Sparks sets out four arguments.  In this post were are going to give a very brief summary of each argument.  For a full and much more detailed understanding of the arguments read the full brief which we have uploaded and can be found here.

1. The U.S. Supreme Court recognises that children who commit crime are fundamentally different from adult offenders

The brief reminds the justices that since 2005 the Supreme Court of the United State of America (SCOTUS) has issued 4 rulings that have drastically altered juvenile justice in the USA. Those rulings (Roper v. Simons 2005, Graham v. Florida 2010, J.D.B. v. North Carolina 2011 and Miller v. Alabama 2013) have established that there is a fundamental difference between juveniles and adults and that the scientific evidence of “transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences – both lessened a child’s ‘moral culpability’ and enhanced the prospect that, as the years go by and neurological development occurs, his ‘deficiencies will be reformed.”

2. The way Indiana applied the felony murder rule is inconsistent with the U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence related to juvenile offenders

Felony Murder is a law of transferred intent. Basically if you intend to commit a felony and someone gets killed then the courts can transfer that intent into a murder charge. In the Miller ruling Justice Breyer wrote,

At base, the theory of transferring a defendant’s intent is premised on the idea that one engaged in a dangerous felony should understand the risk that the victim of the felony could be killed, even by a confederate. Yet the ability to consider the full consequences of a course of action and to adjust one’s conduct accordingly is precisely what we know juveniles lack capacity to do effectively.

Based on the SCOTUS rulings this brief argues that applying felony murder to a juvenile is problematic because they lack the ability to adjust their conduct and consider the full consequences of their actions.  This is a problem with transferred intent according the the brief.

The brief continues looking at the vulnerability of adolescents to negative influences, outside pressures and less developed decision making and risk assessment skills. This section concludes with a reminder that SCOTUS believes that “most juveniles who engage in criminal activity are not destined to become life-long criminals.”

3. Indiana should adopt a separate juvenile standard when an adolescent is charged with felony murder

In this section the brief argues that given the known scientific research on the development of the adolescent brain there should be a different standard for juveniles charged with felony murder. The brief argues that,

1. Indiana should not allow felony murder to be charged in the case of juveniles

2. If Indiana is going to charge felony murder it should not allow it in cases when the person who killed is not an accomplice or third party.

The brief reminds the course that event for adults the majority of states in the USA will not charge felony murder if a co-accused is killed by a third party — for more information read our story Did Sunny Hostin Make A Huge Mistake on Dr. Phil?

4. When children are charged and convicted of felony murder, courts must have discretion to impose individualized sentences because of their reduced culpability

The brief argues that if a juvenile is convicted of felony murder the court and the trial judge must be able to create an appropriate sentence for juvenile based on the specifics of the case, the needs of the offender and the scientific research on brain development.

The brief is well writing and very interesting.  People who are interested in this case are encouraged to read the brief here.

Finally, in a recent decision the Indiana Appeals has granted the Juvenile Law Center the opportunity to amend their briefs. Presumably this is the result of high profile juvenile advocate and lawyer Marsha Levick joining the appeals.  We look forward to reading the amended brief.