Associate Professor Kohler-Hausmann Secures Important Ruling in Class Action Lawsuit
Associate Professor of Law Issa Kohler-Hausmann ’08 and partners won a major ruling in federal court last month for the constitutional rights of people sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed as children and who, after serving the minimum sentence required by the legislature, are denied parole despite showing clear signs of rehabilitation.
The plaintiffs in the class action case were all sentenced to indeterminate sentences of some number of years to life with the possibility of parole after having committed serious offenses in New York while they were under the age of 18. The lawsuit is against the New York State Board of Parole and argues that people serving parole-eligible life sentences for crimes committed as children must be provided a “realistic and meaningful opportunity for release based on current demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”
Ruling on a motion to dismiss, U.S. District Court Judge Vincent L. Briccetti sided with the plaintiffs holding that “an Eighth Amendment right attaches to life-sentenced juvenile offenders’ parole proceedings” and that “the Constitution mandates” that the parole process “must amount to a meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” The court also held that the Board must follow procedures sufficient to provide plaintiffs a meaningful opportunity for release.
“Many juvenile crimes are the devastating product of difficult circumstances and lack of maturity. Judge Briccetti’s decision gives the six hundred-plus people serving life sentences in New York for crimes committed as children hope that they will one day earn their release,” said Attorney Avery Gilbert, co-counsel on the case.
Kohler-Hausmann and Gilbert are working with the firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP in representing the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit is asking the court to declare that the parole board may not deny parole based solely on the applicant’s crime committed as a child, must assess parole release suitability according to the individual’s currently demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation, and that New York’s parole current procedures are inadequate to do so.
“We hope to establish that persons sentenced to an indeterminate lifetime of prison for crimes committed as children are entitled to a meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated rehabilitation and reform and also that the state must provide adequate parole procedures to vindicate this right,” said Kohler-Hausmann.
Kohler-Hausmann noted that the outcome of this case could impact many others facing similar circumstances. She is working on a similar case in Wisconsin along with co-counsel Gilbert and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Wisconsin Chapter.
“This is an issue facing states across the country who have life-sentenced juveniles and those who were re-sentenced to life with parole after Miller,” said Kohler-Hausmann, referencing the high-profile Supreme Court case Miller v. Alabama, in which the Court held that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.
Issa Kohler-Hausmann is Associate Professor of Law at Yale Law School and Associate Professor of Sociology at Yale. Her primary research interests are in criminal law, sociology of law, empirical legal studies, social and legal theory. Admitted to practice in New York State, Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, and the Western District of Wisconsin, Kohler-Hausmann maintains an active pro bono legal practice. Kohler-Hausmann serves as co-lead counsel in two putative class action suits on behalf of persons serving indeterminate life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles. She previously worked in solo practice in felony and misdemeanor criminal defense, New York State freedom of information litigation, and has been an associate with Ilissa Brownstein & Associates.
Avery Gilbert is an attorney admitted to practice in New York State, Southern District of New York, and the Western District of Wisconsin, and maintains an active pro bono legal practice. Gilbert serves as co-lead counsel in two putative class action suits with Kohler-Hausmann on behalf of persons serving indeterminate life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles. She is also partner of Engage Strategies, providing strategic planning and policy analysis services to nonprofit organizations and philanthropies and previously worked as an associate with Boies, Schiller and Flexner, LLP.