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241 Years in Prison for Teenage Crimes. The Story of Bobby Bostic
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241 Years in Prison for Teenage Crimes. The Story of Bobby Bostic

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The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of Bobby Bostic, a man from Missouri who was found guilty of 18 criminal charges in 1995 when he was just 16 years old. It has been 21 years now since Bobby’s imprisonment. He is 39 and will not be eligible for parole until he is 112 years old, which is in fact equal to a life sentence for non-homicide offenses. This is was the “adult time for adult crime” mentality of the 1980s and 1990s that resulted in Bobby’s sentence being so long, he now knows first-hand how destructive  the maximum weight of the adult criminal justice system can be when put on the shoulders of  a juvenile.

Despite the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” which the Supreme Court upheld in 2010, Bostic doesn't have such an opportunity under his current sentence. Unless the court changes its mind, he will be in prison until January 2091, at least. The tragic mistakes of youth will likely cost Bobby his life.

According to the brief prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri, in December 1995 Bostic and his 18-year-old accomplice Donald Hutson robbed a group of people delivering Christmas presents for the needy when he was 16. Bostic stated there were five people in this crowd, but they “...only robbed two…one victim was shot but not injured”. Shortly thereafter “about 30 minutes later and about 8 blocks away” the pair put a gun to the head of another woman, carjacked the victim and took her car for a joy ride a few blocks away from the robbery.

 In Bobby’s own words, he was charged with “two counts of first degree robbery and three counts of attempted robbery” for the first incident and “kidnapping and armed criminal action” for the second incident. Bostic continued, “The only plea bargain I was offered was a life sentence. I went to trial and a jury found me guilty of all counts. The jury recommended 30 years for three robberies, 15 years for the first-degree assaults, and 5 to 10 for the attempted robberies and criminal action charges. The final decision was left to the judge to run the sentences concurrently for a 30-year sentence or consecutively for a total of 240 years.” Bobby’s savvier accomplice who was 18 took a plea and the judge sentenced him to 30 years but Bobby chose trial. “A lost and troubled 16-year-old soul trying to find his place in the world but always seemed to be looking in the wrong places and doing the wrong things,” this is how Bobbie describes himself in his letter for supporters on the specially created website “Free Bobby Bostic”.

The Judge, Evelyn Baker, called Bostic the biggest fool who ever stood in front of the court. And punished him with the most severe sentence she ever handed down to incarcerate Bobby Bostic for decades.

Judge Evelyn Baker in 1983/ACLU

241 Years in Prison for Teenage Crimes. The Story of Bobby Bostic

Much has changed since 1995. In 2010, in the case of Graham V. Florida, the United States Supreme court held that the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishments, forbids states from sentencing juveniles to life-without-parole sentences for non-homicide crimes, yet the state of Missouri has not re-sentenced him. “Maybe it’s time to single out cruel from “cruel and unusual” because the combination doesn’t apply to Bobby Bostic, his unusual punishment was the norm in the ‘90s,” concludes New Pittsburgh Courier columnist J. Pharoah Doss.

The Missouri Supreme Court has found an explanation for its inaction: the U.S. Supreme Court rulings pertain only to defendants convicted of a single charge, not multiple charges added together. “In practice, that means Bostic would have been better off committing a single act of murder than being convicted of multiple, non-fatal crimes,” noted Doyle Murphy, a journalist at the Riverfront Times.

In 2012, Bostic got another opportunity to appeal against his sentence. That year the Supreme Court of the United States held in the case Miller v. Alabama, that the Eighth Amendment forbids states from giving juveniles mandatory life-without-parole for homicide convictions. No one was hurt in Bobby’s crimes but he still remains serving an unconstitutional life-without-parole sentence.

Four years later, in 2016, the Missouri passed Senate Bill 590 which said “Any person sentenced to a term of imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole before August 28 2016, who was under eighteen years of age at the time of the commission of the offense or offenses, may submit to the parole board a petition for a review of his or her sentence, regardless of whether the case is final for purposes of appeal, after serving twenty-five years of incarceration on the sentence of life without parole.” Nevertheless, there is still no provision for Bobby sentenced to 241 years owing to the fact that only those with a life-without-parole sentence are eligible for a parole hearing after serving 25 years. “Since I am eligible for parole in 2201, my sentence is technically not a life-without-parole sentence,” Bostic says.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. is not a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which is ratified by every single nation on earth and which is therefore international law. Article 37 of the Convention states: “Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below eighteen years of age.” And again, Bostic's sentence also violates it.

In 2017 Bobby filed a petition for certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court under the caption Bostic v. Pash. “My sentence has to be corrected. I am totally remorseful for my crimes and have written the victims letters of apology. I deserve a second chance in this case,” he says.

Bostic’s Petition

Comments on Bostic’s Petition

In December 2017, the ACLU of Missouri submitted a petition for a writ of certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court. Juvenile Law Center along with the Children and Family Justice Center and The Sentencing Project filed an amicus brief in support of Mr. Bostic, confirming that the Graham V. Florida case of 2010 forbids not only formal life without parole sentences for juvenile non-homicide offenders, but also discretionary term-of-years sentences such as a Bostic’s with parole eligibility at 112 which is equivalent to a life without parole sentence and therefore violates the Eighth Amendment.
In January 2018, a group of 26 former judges and prosecutors signed an amicus brief in support of Bostic. Today, there are over 100 current and former judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers who are calling on the Supreme Court to throw out Bostic’s sentence based on the 2010 Graham v. Florida ruling.
In February 2018, Evelyn Baker spoke publicly about Bostic for the first time, from her home in St. Louis. “As the sentencing judge, I hope they release him,” she told. She called that sentence a mistake and expressed her regret as she publicly urged the court to hear the case. “I thought I was faulting Bostic for his crimes. Looking back, I see that I was punishing him both for what he did and for his immaturity. I am now retired, and I deeply regret what I did,” she wrote in an essay published in the Washington Post. Bobby used the same words talking to BBC News: “I shouldn't have done it, and I regret it.” It took Baker slightly more than 20 years to change her mind and state that imprison Bobby and children like him for life without any chance of release “is unfair, unjust and, under the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision, unconstitutional.”
Baker is not the only person involved in the trial to recognize the harshness of Bostic’s sentence. In 2014, one of Bobby’s victims spoke to the Post-Dispatch anonymously. “People who have committed heinous crimes — murder and rape — are getting a lot less of a sentence,” she said.
Bostic’s case has attracted strong public support. The editorial board of the Post-Dispatch recently described his sentence as “inhumane”. In its 2014 report, the Post-Dispatch found Bostic “is serving the longest sentence of any juvenile offender in the state, not counting the 81 murderers who could get reconsideration under the Miller ruling.” There were only three other men serving sentences longer than 100 years for murder. Instead, the court chose to bow out and allow this deeply troubling result to stand.
In spite of it all, The U.S. Supreme Court denied Mr. Bostic's petition for certiorari, leaving the question of the constitutionality of lengthy term-of-years sentences for juvenile offenders unaddressed.

The Supreme Court gave no explanation for their decision not to hear Bostic's case/U.S. SUPREME COURT

After hearing about the Supreme Court decision on 23 April the ACLU said in a press release that it was disappointed. “Mr. Bostic should get a chance to show that the crimes he committed at 16 do not define him,” the ACLU said. “The Constitution demands nothing less.” However, the legal director of the ACLU of Missouri Tony Rothert wasn’t surprised by the court’s decision. “It’s extremely disappointing, of course, because we know and care about Mr. Bostic,” Rothert said. “But the Supreme Court takes very few cases, and often lets issues percolate in the states for many years before resolving conflicts.” Mrs. Baker said in a statement that she would continue to do everything she can to get Bobby’s sentence reconsidered.
It’s 21 years since Bostic’s crime and he is a “model prisoner”. There are numerous institutional programs focused on rehabilitation and restorative justice as well as college courses in victim advocacy and business studies completed over these years. He also obtained his high school equivalency test in 1998 and got a paralegal diploma in 2010. Most importantly, Bostic keeps dreaming. “As a human being, freedom never leaves your mind,” he says. “You look at TV and see everything you want, but can't have. Even when you go out, get air, you're reminded that you can't have it.”
Should prosecutors improve juvenile justice? Is it necessary to raise the age at which young people can be tried as adults? U.S. society has to ponder it over. But one thing is clear: children and young adults are different and the justice system must do a better job to create a more fair and just future for all its young people.

Author: Christine Petrova