State v. James Ryan Kelliher
|Case Link||View Now|
|Opinion Filed||June 17, 2022|
|Attorney for the Case||Kathryn L. Vandenberg|
|Amicus Brief Writers||Christopher Heaney Emily Gibson Margaret Teich|
|Court||NC Supreme Court|
NCAJ filed an amicus brief in the NC Supreme Court on behalf of Mr. Darrell Anderson, Mr. Riley Conner, and Mr. James Kelliher. Each of them pled guilty to crimes committed as juveniles, including homicide and other offenses, and received consecutive sentences that did not make them parole eligible until their sixties. The Court of Appeals held that Mr. Kelliher’s sentences were a violation of the Eighth Amendment and the North Carolina Constitution because they did not give him a meaningful opportunity for release as required by Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 176, L. Ed. 2d 825 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407 (2012). In contrast and over Chief Justice Linda McGee’s dissent, the Court of Appeals held that Mr. Conner’s and Mr. Anderson’s sentences were not an Eighth Amendment violation.
NCAJ’s amicus brief focuses on whether the sentences are a violation of the North Carolina Constitution, which bans “cruel or unusual punishment.” Although other state courts have relied on their state constitutions to provide greater protection for juvenile conduct than the United States Constitution provides, North Carolina courts have not yet followed suit. The amicus brief argues that the North Carolina Constitution does provide greater protection than the United States Constitution based on other provisions in the North Carolina Constitution and legislation reflecting the state’s historical concern with protecting vulnerable children. The brief also provides information about how many other people serving sentences for juvenile conduct are affected by sentences that amount to illegal de facto life without parole sentences, other state courts’ relevant decisions, and the reentry difficulties that people face if they leave prison later in life. The brief urges the Court to affirm the Court of Appeals in Kelliher, vacate the Court of Appeals in Anderson and Conner, and remand with instructions to impose sentences that allow for parole eligibility after no more than twenty-five years of incarceration.