State v. James Ryan Kelliher

Emily Gibson

Gibson Law, PLLC

Emily Gibson is a native North Carolinian, originally from Durham. After college, she worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer at the non-profit The Hispanic Liaison, which provided direct services to immigrants in Chatham County. Even before the practice of law, Attorney Gibson assisted with certain legal issues for victims of fraud.

This experience fighting for immigrants led her to take the LSAT. After her admittance to North Carolina Central University School of Law in 2005, she attended to her studies as well as interned with the Public Defender’s Office of Chatham County. After graduating cum laude and passing the North Carolina State Bar in 2008, Attorney Gibson worked at the Public Defender’s Office of Buncombe County for the following 3 years.  

Currently, after 10 years of practicing in primarily criminal defense, Attorney Gibson manages her firm, Gibson Law, PLLC. The firm assists with criminal, domestic and some civil cases. Additionally, all staff are bilingual.  Attorney Gibson is an active member of the North Carolina Bar, North Carolina Advocates for Justice, Wake County Academy of Trial Lawyers, Southern Law Poverty Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Case Link View Now
Opinion Filed Pending
Attorney for the Case Kathryn L. Vandenberg
Amicus Brief Writers Christopher Heaney Emily Gibson Margaret Teich
Court NC Supreme Court
Docket No. 442PA20

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.