Eastern University Graduate, Bryan Stevenson '81, Wins Supreme Court Case

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Eastern University graduate Bryan Stevenson ’81, attorney and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, has won an important victory in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Every person is more than the worst thing they've ever done."

This March, Eastern University graduate, Bryan Stevenson, appeared before the Supreme Court, arguing in two cases that the life imprisonment without parole sentences imposed on Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson constitute cruel and unusual punishment, violating the Constitution. "Every person is more than the worst thing they've ever done," Stevenson said. "But children are uniquely more than their worst act. They have quintessential qualities and characteristics that a decent society, a maturing society, an evolved society, we believe, is constitutionally obligated to recognize and protect."

On June 25, the Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring youths convicted of murder to be sentenced to die in prison violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  Writing for the majority in the 5-4 decision concerning juvenile offenders, Justice Elena Kagan said the Constitution forbids “requiring that all children convicted of homicide receive lifetime incarceration without possibility of parole, regardless of their age and age-related characteristics and the nature of their crimes.”

Bryan Stevenson called it “an important win for children.” He said, “Today’s decision requires the lower courts to conduct new sentencing hearings where judges will have to consider children’s individual character and life circumstances, including age, as well as the circumstances of the crime.” But he added that the resentencing must be initiated by the inmates, that many lacked the resources to pay for a lawyer, and that the Supreme Court had said prisoners seeking new hearings have no constitutional right to counsel.

Stevenson’s work has earned him the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, the Olof Palme Peace Prize from Sweden, ACLU National Medal of Liberty, Reebok Human Rights Award and Gruber Prize for Justice, among many other honors.

After Stevenson’s graduation from Eastern University, a Philadelphia Christian University, he earned his Master’s and Law degree in Public Policy at Harvard University. He has written several manuals and journals that focus on teaching and training the handling of discriminatory law. His accomplishments in fair justice trials have landed many print and TV interviews, including Bill Moyers, CNN, and the PBS series on Religion and Ethics.

The Equal Justice Initiative is a nonprofit organization in Alabama that exposes the biases under which capital punishment is imposed, and represents those who cannot afford legal representation. Its Web site reports on this case:  "The U.S. Supreme Court today issued an historic ruling in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger convicted of homicide are unconstitutional. Kuntrell Jackson and Evan Miller, sentenced to life in prison without parole at 14, are now entitled to new sentencing hearings. Today’s ruling will affect hundreds of individuals whose sentences did not take their age or other mitigating factors into account."

Eastern University is a Christian university that enrolls about 4,400 students in its undergraduate, graduate, Seminary, international, urban and professional degree programs. All education at Eastern University is rooted in its core values of faith, reason and justice. For more information, visit http://www.eastern.edu.

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Linda Olson
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