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Emory Law News Center


The Appeal for Youth Clinic at Emory works to end juvenile life without parole in Georgia

Emory University School of Law |
The Barton Child Law and Policy Center
Adjunct Clinical Instructor Stephen Reba & executive director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center, Melissa Carter

The Barton Child Law and Policy Center expanded its clinical offerings in 2011 with the addition of the Appeal for Youth Clinic.  Since then, Adjunct Clinical Instructor Stephen Reba and his clinic students have been disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline by reshaping legal precedent.  The students do the prep work – research, brief writing – and then Reba argues the cases before the review courts. In some of the most timely and critical work in the area of juvenile law, the Appeal for Youth Clinic is leading efforts to end life without parole for juveniles sentenced as adults in Georgia.  

The first notable victory came in the 2013 Georgia Supreme Court decision in Moore v. State, 293 Ga. 705, in which Reba successfully argued for the vacation of his client’s life without parole sentence.  Adopting his argument, the Georgia Supreme Court found that the 2005 US Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons, which bars imposition of the death penalty for offenses committed by a youth under the age of 18, retroactively applies to Georgia’s sentencing scheme and invalidates the sentence.

On October 2, Reba argued before the state Supreme Court again, this time on behalf of a juvenile defendant whose life without parole sentence had previously been vacated by the court because the trial court had failed to make a specific finding that the defendant was “irreparably corrupt or permanently incorrigible” as required by the 8th Amendment (“Veal I”) prior to the imposition of a life without parole sentence.  On remand for resentencing, the trial court again failed to make those findings and imposed a new sentence that put the defendant’s parole eligibility past his life expectancy.  Reba argued that this new sentence constituted a de facto life without parole sentence in violation of the 8th Amendment.

Melissa Carter, clinical professor of law, executive director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center, and director of the Barton Policy and Legislative Advocacy Clinics, extoled the contributions of students to their process: “Students enrolled in the Appeal for Youth clinic play an essential role in the Barton Center’s efforts to achieve greater justice for children who are involved with the criminal justice system. Their diligent and thorough research, skilled analysis, and compelling arguments provide the basis for advocacy that has the potential to clarify and evolve legal standards on the timely and critical issue of juvenile life without parole. Their work is at the forefront of this field in Georgia and across the nation.”