When Bobby Bostic was 16 years old, he and an 18-year-old friend committed two non-fatal armed robberies. His friend took a deal, but Bostic, who is Black, chose to go to court where Judge Evelyn Baker sentenced him to 241 years in prison with no possibility of parole before his 112th birthday.
Last month, Baker wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post titled, “I Sentenced a Teen to Die in Prison. I Regret It.” In it, she writes about her 1997 decision:
I thought I was faulting Bostic for his crimes. Looking back, I see that I was punishing him both for what he did and for his immaturity.
I am now retired, and I deeply regret what I did. Scientists have discovered so much about brain development in the more than 20 years since I sentenced Bostic. What I learned too late is that young people’s brains are not static; they are in the process of maturing. Kids his age are unable to assess risks and consequences like an adult would. Overwhelming scientific research shows that children lack maturity and a sense of responsibility compared with adults because they are still growing. But for the same reason, they also have greater capacity for reform.
Baker also signed on to an amicus—or, friend of the court—brief in support of Bostic’s appeal to the Supreme Court to consider if his sentence stands in violation of the Eight Amendment, which prevents “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Today, a group of 75 people filed another amicus brief in support of Bostic v. Pash. The supporters are prosecutors, law enforcement officers, probation officers, corrections officers, juvenile justice officials and former judges, and the brief says that they include “former Court of Appeals judges, a former state Supreme Court justice, two former U.S. Solicitors General, a former Acting U.S. Attorney General, a former F.B.I. Director, 13 current elected prosecutors from across the country and five former U.S. Attorneys.”
“The Eighth Amendment requires our criminal justice system to account for the unassailable reality that children are different—an insight the Supreme Court has also recognized, and one which is supported by the ever-growing scientific literature regarding juvenile brain development,” Miriam Aroni Krinsky, executive director of brief signatory Fair and Just Prosecution said in a statement. “Recognizing that children have a unique capacity for rehabilitation and should be sentenced accordingly, with an opportunity for second chances, comports with both the pursuit of justice and public safety.”
Tony Rothert, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri’s legal director, continued in the same statement:
Mr. Bostic’s sentence—241 years in prison starting at age 16—dooms him to life without parole. That is his punishment, no matter what term we use for the sentence he received. The Supreme Court in Graham ruled that life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional. Mr. Bostic should be no exception.