A law professor and team of students from the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to take on the case of Robert Cameron Houston, who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2006 for killing a youth counselor when he was just 17.
Professor Michael Teter on Nov. 20 filed a petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court. The time may be right for the high court to take the case, given a number of recent rulings on sentencing juveniles, Teter said. Teter pointed to recent rulings from the high court, including cases where the court has held that it is unconstitutional to sentence juvenile offenders to the death penalty; that it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life without parole for non-homicide offenses, and that it is unconstitutional for states to use a mandatory sentencing scheme that requires life without parole for juveniles convicted of homicide.
“There is a gap in the court’s cases about whether it is always unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life without parole. This petition seeks to have the court address that question,” Teter said.
“In addition, we believe that if the court upholds the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles to life without parole for homicide offenses, that based on previous court holdings, a jury must decide beyond a reasonable doubt that the juvenile is “irreparably corrupt,” after weighing evidence about juvenile brain development. The petition asks the Court to consider that issue, as well,” he said.
Cameron was the first juvenile ever sentenced in Utah to life without parole. Currently, there are still only two people in Utah prisons sentenced to life without parole for offenses committed as juveniles.
Law students who work on the case with Teter include Kyler O’Brien, Joe Amadon, Amy Pauli, as well as Richard Snow. The case is one of several faculty and students associated with the S.J. Quinney College of Law have worked on as part of the college’s Pro Bono Initiative.