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Shawn E. Fields
Politicians lie. For better or worse, we have grown accustomed to this unsavory practice. We expect candidates for public office to make promises they have no intention of keeping. We expect candidates to say one thing to “play to the base” during primaries, only to contradict themselves as they “play to the middle” in the general election. But should this unfortunate fact of political discourse influence judicial analysis of a politician’s potentially unconstitutional motivations behind a challenged government action? Should courts refuse even to consider discriminatory and inflammatory campaign pledges in assessing the purpose of a statute or regulation simply because we distrust our elected officials? Can such a bright-line evidentiary exclusion be justified even when a political candidate speaks openly, consistently, and convincingly about his desire to enact impermissibly discriminatory policies if elected?
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Underdeveloped and Over-Sentenced: Why Eighteen- to Twenty-Year-Olds Should Be Exempt from Life Without Parole
Reynolds Wintersmith was just twenty years old when he learned he may spend the rest of his life in prison. In 1994, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for a nonviolent drug crime. It was his first conviction.
When United States District Judge Philip Reinhard was sentencing Reynolds, he struggled with the mandatory minimum requirements:
“Under the federal law I have no discretion in my sentencing. Usually a life sentence is imposed in state courts when somebody has been killed or severely hurt, or you got a recidivist . . . . [T]his is your first conviction, and here you face life imprisonment . . . . [I]t gives me pause to think that that was the intent of Congress, to put somebody away for the rest of their life.”
This comment contends that Reynolds Wintersmith belonged to a class of offenders who should be categorically exempt from sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Sentencing eighteen- to twenty-year-olds to life without parole should be considered cruel and unusual because it is disproportionate to this class of offenders’ culpability.