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The Criminal Justice Clinic represents Barry Guess and Tyrone Whitaker, two men who are serving effective life sentences in prison for crimes they committed as teenagers. Both the United States Supreme Court and the Connecticut Supreme Court have held that sentencing judges must consider youth and its attendant characteristics—such as the inability to fully appreciate risks and consequences—as mitigating factors before sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment. In Connecticut, sentences of 50 years or more in prison are treated as effective life sentences. The judges who sentenced Mr. Guess and Mr. Whitaker, however, did not give mitigating weight to these factors before imposing effective life sentences. On October 14, 2016, the Clinic submitted briefs to the Connecticut Supreme Court advocating for new sentencing proceedings for Mr. Guess and Mr. Whitaker.
Life sentences in Connecticut such as the ones pronounced on Mr. Guess and Mr. Whitaker have disproportionately been imposed on children of color. Forty individuals across Connecticut are serving 50 years or more for crimes committed as juveniles; more than 90% are people of color. While African-Americans constitute 11.6% of Connecticut’s population, they account for 60% of people sentenced to life for crimes committed as teenagers. Similarly, Latinx individuals constitute only 15.4% of Connecticut residents but account for more than one third of people serving effective life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles.
"Mr. Guess was only 15 years old when he was arrested for the crime that led to his effective life sentence; Mr. Whitaker was only seventeen."
In its brief, the Clinic argues that Mr. Guess and Mr. Whitaker must receive new sentences that account for their youth at the time of their crimes and their capacity for change. Mr. Guess was only 15 years old when he was arrested for the crime that led to his effective life sentence; Mr. Whitaker was only 17. Both men have spent decades in prison and have worked hard to achieve rehabilitation despite the harsh realities of incarceration. Both men have demonstrated their capacity for change. The Clinic’s briefs, as well as a Hartford Courant article highlighting the successes of a reentry program founded by Mr. Whitaker along with six other men incarcerated at Osborn Correctional Institute, are available below.