“Kids are kids. They don’t stop being kids just because our criminal justice system has deemed them ‘adults’ as a matter of legal fiction to justify placing them in the adult system. Our system forgets that kids are still growing, developing, and maturing. This is wrong. Worse yet, the harm caused to a young person cannot be overstated, both due to their unique developmental stage as an adolescent and the damage that results from children inevitably facing more years in prison than adults and being at greater risk for isolation, sexual assault, and other forms of violence and trauma. Having an informed advocate can make all the difference. The Trial Defense Guidelines: Representing a Child Client Facing a Possible Life Sentence highlights a developmental approach to defending kids facing the harshest sentence which can be imposed upon a child. In doing so, these Guidelines give lawyers essential tools to provide effective and zealous representation. I strongly urge those defenders tasked with the responsibility of representing our children facing life sentences to use this valuable resource.”

Gabriella Celeste
Director, Child Studies
Schubert Center for Child Studies
Case Western Reserve University


“Children and adults are fundamentally different. We all know that. But abolishing harsh sentences for youth in the adult criminal justice system is just the first step in reforming a broken system. Without effective and trained counsel, we risk losing the real fight for justice, which will unfold in courtrooms across the country. The Trial Defense Guidelines recognize that children need to be treated as children when facing a possible life in prison sentence. The Guidelines also will ensure a child receives a meaningful, individualized sentencing hearing before imposition of a sentence. To criminal defense lawyers everywhere: Keep these close!”

Marsha Levick
Deputy Director and Chief Counsel
Juvenile Law Center


“There has been a sea change in how cases should be handled by juveniles facing life sentences, brought about by Miller v. Alabama. The Trial Defense Guidelines set out explicitly how these cases are to be handled. Public defense leaders must ensure that such cases are staffed by qualified attorneys and other professionals who are informed of and agree to follow these Guidelines. Counsel must understand what is required of them and plan their cases accordingly. The ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases (2003) has been highly influential in guiding how capital cases are handled in America. I fully expect the Trial Defense Guidelines to play a similarly influential role.”

Ernie Lewis
Executive Director
National Association for Public Defense


“In Roper, Graham, and then Miller, the United States Supreme Court tells us children must be treated differently from adults when holding them accountable for their actions. Child status, and the accompanying attributes that go along with child status, must be taken into account before any sentence can be imposed. My background as a judge makes me aware of the agonizing responsibility involved in sentencing juveniles.

“The time is now for utilization of the Trial Defense Guidelines: Representing a Child Client Facing a Possible Life Sentence, which spell out a national standard for handling juvenile life cases. Just as with the ABA guidelines for handling capital cases, the Trial Defense Guidelines call for a team approach by qualified individuals who know how to investigate and present mitigation. The Guidelines also call for the resources and time necessary to present fully the life history of the child about to be sentenced. These are necessary components of a meaningful individualized sentencing hearing as required by the United States Supreme Court.

“The Trial Defense Guidelines provide defense counsel tasked with the awesome responsibility of representing a child who may be sentenced to die in prison with a tool to use in handling these cases. How can these Guidelines not add to the quality of representation provided our nation’s children, who are presumed innocent? I whole heartedly support implementation of the Trial Defense Guidelines.”

Hon. Abner Mikva
Former White House Counsel
Former Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit


“It is unimaginable to me that a child facing the possibility of a life sentence in prison in the United States of America would not have the type of specialized defense counsel envisioned in the Trial Defense Guidelines. Simply stated, that seems unethical, immoral, and a fundamental denial of the constitutional and developmental differences between adults and children. The Trial Defense Guidelines are long overdue and should be uniformly adopted across the nation.”

Patricia Puritz
Former Executive Director
National Juvenile Defender Center


“The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is very pleased to have been a part of the development of the comprehensive and critical Trial Defense Guidelines for any child facing a possible life sentence. It is imperative to embrace the constitutional obligations of counsel and the distinctive roles and responsibilities that defense attorneys face in these extremely complex cases. There is simply no question that this is a highly specialized area of practice that requires a unique skill set that will be significantly guided and informed by the Guidelines.”

Norman L. Reimer
Executive Director
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers


“These Guidelines are an invaluable tool for defense lawyers who represent children. In the struggle for age-appropriate sentencing that allows for the great potential of children to make positive changes, well-equipped defense attorneys are crucial. The Guidelines will help ensure that defense counsel are properly trained to zealously advocate for their child clients.”

Preston Shipp
Former Appellate Prosecutor
State of Tennessee


“Any child facing the possibility of a life sentence must receive legal representation by a qualified defense team as outlined in the Trial Defense Guidelines. Mitigation specialists, as commonly used in death penalty cases, are critical to the defense team in the preparation of cases involving life without parole sentences for children. Only a qualified team, as provided in the Guidelines, can ensure zealous representation as required by the Sixth Amendment. Our children deserve nothing less.”

Randolph N. Stone
Clinical Professor of Law
University of Chicago Law School 


“As a retired justice from the Supreme Court of Ohio, I often saw long sentences that were the result of “maxing and stacking” individual sentences. These were difficult issues to deal with.

But children are different.  Their youth,  developing brains and emotions, lack of ability to reason, see into the future and all the things we have learned from the research tells us this. It is behind the U.S. Supreme Court’s  decision to outlaw life without parole for youth. But the practice of de facto life without parole continues, and it is no different for one charge or many.

I have signed on as an amicus challenging this de facto life without parole in our own Ohio Supreme Court.  It is time to extend the same protection to these youth, to give them a chance to regain their life and show that they have matured and are capable of growing into productive, law abiding adults, rather than condemn them to hopelessness, locked in prison forever. What a waste.

I support these Guidelines and hope they become more than guidelines, but the law of the land.”

Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Retired
Ohio Supreme Court