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Juvenile Life Without Parole Approved by Wisconsin Supreme Court Holds

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on May 24, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has recently decided that juvenile life without parole is constitutional. In this landmark case, Omer Ninham, then 14 at the time of the crime he committed, was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide for the killing of Zong Vang, then 13.

The facts in the case were horrific. Zang was running an errand for his family when Ninham and a few other juveniles stopped him, accosted him, and then ultimately threw him over a 5-story parking ramp where he plummeted to his death. The crime was unprovoked.

Ninham was convicted after a jury trial in adult court at the age of 16 in 2000. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, reports the AP.

This decision comes on the heels of last year's Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Florida which held that a juvenile life sentence without parole was unconstitutional for juvenile offenders who committed something short of a homicide.

Ninham's attorneys argued that his sentence was unconstitutional under the Eight Amendment's provision against cruel and unusual punishment. Ninham also sought a modification of his sentence on the grounds that it was harsh and excessive.

In addressing Ninham's claims, the court determined that sentencing a 14-year-old to life in prison without parole was not unconstitutional. When determining whether a punishment is "cruel and unusual" under the Eighth Amendment, the court's standard is to see if the punishment is "inconsistent with evolving standards of decency."

The court analyzed this by determining whether or not there was a national consensus against the sentencing of 14-year olds who commit intentional homicide to life in prison without parole. The court found no such national consensus, and rejected this part of Ninham's argument.

The court also found that Ninham's punishment was not unduly harsh or excessive. "Under the circumstances of this case, Ninham's punishment is severe, but it is not disproportionately so," wrote Justice Ziegler in the opinion.

Omer Ninham's attorney has stated that he will be filing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court so far has only decided a case about juvenile life without parole for non-homicide cases.

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