Missouri is among only five states in the nation that continues to put 17-year-olds on trial as adults no matter the crime they committed. It is the only state with a case like that of Bobby Bostic, who is serving a 241-year prison sentence for a series of armed robberies he committed in 1995 at age 16.
State lawmakers have repeatedly opposed measures to make 18 the age for automatic trial as an adult but should reconsider in light of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings that seem to conflict with Missouri’s treatment of juvenile offenders.
It’s inhumane to sentence a teen who did not commit homicide to die in prison with no opportunity to demonstrate his fitness to rejoin society. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling, Graham v. Florida, banned juveniles from being sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide crimes, saying they must have “a meaningful opportunity for release.”
Technically, Bostic, now 38, wasn’t sentenced to life without parole. He was given a sentence by St. Louis Circuit Judge Evelyn Baker that makes him ineligible for parole consideration until 2091, when he would be 112. Baker did not hide her intent when sentencing Bostic.
“You made your choice,” she said “You’re gonna have to live with your choice, and you’re gonna die with your choice, because, Bobby Bostic, you will die in the Department of Corrections. Do you understand that?”
The high court may have the opportunity to rule on that aspect of sentencing if justices accept an appeal filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Bostic last month.
Bostic’s crime absolutely was worthy of stiff punishment. Just before Christmas 1995, he and Donald Hutson, 18, held up a group delivering gifts to the needy in north St. Louis. Each teen shot a victim, but no one was seriously injured. The pair then carjacked a woman and put a gun to her head. The ACLU brief says Hutson robbed and fondled the woman before releasing her.
A jury found Bostic guilty of 17 counts ranging from robbery to armed criminal action. He was certified for trial as an adult and is serving a longer sentence than any other juvenile offender in Missouri who did not commit murder. Hutson took a plea deal and got a 30-year sentence. He will be eligible for parole in 2020.
A 2012 Supreme Court ruling, Miller v. Alabama, barred automatic life sentences for young killers. Missouri last year changed the law in response to the Miller ruling so that anyone under 18 sentenced to life, life without parole or up to 40 years for murder can petition the parole board for a review after serving 25 years.
State lawmakers should let Bostic have a parole hearing to show whether he has been rehabilitated. It’s the humane thing to do.