Monday, May 04, 2009
By Lee Ross
A convicted rapist from Florida who is challenging his life sentence with no opportunity for parole will have his case heard in front of the Supreme Court, the justices announced Monday.
What makes the case worthy of the Court's consideration is that Joe Sullivan was only 13 years old when he was convicted of raping a 72-year-old woman. Now in his 30's, Sullivan argues that his "freakishly rare" sentence is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Lawyers working on Sullivan's behalf question raise a number of issues related to their client's actual guilt which was established during a one day trial. But they are only challenging the constitutionality of his sentence and are asking the Court to give Sullivan the opportunity to appear before a parole board.
They also note that only one other 13-year-old in the country has been given a life-without parole sentence. They further claim no other country in the world has such a sentence for someone so young.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that teens younger than 18 could not be executed. That opinion was silent on the issue presented by Sullivan.
His case has been consolidated with that of another Florida teenager convicted of violating his probation following his conviction for armed burglary and attempted armed robbery. Terrance Graham was 17 years old when sentenced to life in prison with no chance at parole.
The justices will likely hear arguments in the fall.