Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mandatory Juvenile Life Without Parole Sent Up the River

“When a young person is sent ‘up the river,’ we need to remember that all rivers can change course.” -- Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY)

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court held that mandatory life without parole sentencing for juveniles violates the cruel and unusual punishment provision of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. With this new decision, the Supreme Court extended its 2010 ruling in Graham v. Florida, in which the Court concluded that that juvenile life without parole for non-homicide cases is unconstitutional. This decision does not mean that a minor can never be sentenced to life without parole, it simply means that the sentencing judge must have the opportunity to consider age and circumstance when handing down a punishment.

We believe that the high court made the right decision this week. In finding that juveniles cannot be subject to mandatory life without parole sentences, the Court recognized that juveniles are in a special category, and should therefore be treated differently under the law. Kids often make rash decisions without thinking about the consequences. Recent studies have shown that children’s brains function quite differently from adults. Children’s brains continue to develop throughout their adolescent years. This continued development means that kids make impulsive decisions and usually, at the time they make a decision, they do not fully appreciate or recognize the possible consequences.

This scientific research also demonstrates that children have a greater capacity for rehabilitation. By allowing courts to take into account children’s age and circumstances, children are more likely to have an opportunity to be rehabilitated. To be sure, some children have the capacity to commit horrific acts. But mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences has required judges to sentence children to die in prison without any consideration for where a child comes from or what a child has been through. This mandatory sentencing structure has forced us, as a society, to give up on kids rather than provide them an opportunity to reform. This week’s decision helps to restore some rationality to the treatment of juveniles in our criminal justice system.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on mandatory juvenile without parole sentences echoes what the ACLU of Wyoming has been saying all along: kids are different than adults and deserve to be treated as kids, not adults, in our justice system. Learn about our efforts to fight against juvenile life without parole sentencing in Wyoming.

Julianne Gern
ACLU Legal Extern

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Equal Rights in the Equality State

The ACLU of Wyoming is teaming up with Wyoming Equality to fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and marriage equality in Wyoming because we believe in a society that values fairness and equality.

Current trends show a rising tide of public support for marriage equality in Wyoming and across the country. Recent columns from both the Casper Star Tribune and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle describe very clearly why this is such a salient issue for Wyoming, and why the time for marriage equality is now. Both President Obama and the NAACP have recently announced their support for the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. The message of stronger families and greater fairness is resonating. But there’s still a long way to go!

The concept of equal protection under the law, enshrined in the Constitution, requires that fundamental rights like the right to marry be made available equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. While religious faiths are free to distinguish between same-sex and opposite-sex marriages, according to their beliefs, the government may not.

Marriage is about loving, committed couples who want to make a lifelong promise to take care of and be responsible for each other, in good times and bad. It is a basic freedom that should not be denied to anyone.

The true measure of us as a state is how we treat each other. Every individual should have the opportunity to make a lifetime commitment legally to the person he or she loves. Want to help us fight for LGBT rights and marriage equality in Wyoming? Please contact us to find out ways to get involved.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Where to turn when Plan B becomes Plan A


In a political climate where we seem to read about new barriers to women’s reproductive freedom in each news cycle, it’s good to know what the facts are and where to turn when Plan B becomes Plan A.

Sometimes referred to as "Plan B" or the “morning after pill,” emergency contraception is a method of birth control that can substantially reduce the risk of pregnancy after sex. It will not work if you are already pregnant, and it’s not the abortion pill.

Nearly half of all pregnancies in America are unintended. For the women who face a potential unintended pregnancy, widespread and timely access to emergency contraception is crucial. Emergency contraception must be taken within 72 to 120 hours after unprotected intercourse, but most experts agree that it’s more effective the sooner it is taken. Access to emergency contraception is especially important for sexual assault survivors. This narrow window makes ready access to emergency contraception critical in order to be most effective.

The difficulty of a woman’s search for emergency contraception may be further compounded by her own economic or geographical limitations. Thus, it is important that a customer have access to emergency contraception as soon as it’s needed.

It may be challenging for women, particularly those living in rural areas here in Wyoming, to know where to turn in the event that emergency contraception is needed. That is why we teamed up with NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming, Planned Parenthood of Wyoming and the Wyoming Health Council to produce this brochure which provides information about emergency contraception, and more importantly, where to find access to emergency contraception in Wyoming.

Deciding whether or when to become a parent is one of the most private and important decisions a person can make. Access to emergency contraception promotes public health, helps prevent unintended pregnancies and reduces the need for abortions.

Read more about the ACLU’s dedication to reproductive freedom.