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Clemency for Christi Cheramie

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We're continuing to monitor Christi's case, and hopefully we'll be able to share news and further actions you can take soon.

In June 1994, aged just 16, Christi Cheramie was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of release - in violation of international law.

Christi was convicted of second degree murder for the killing of her fiance's aunt, Mildred Turnage. She was at the scene of the crime, but it was her 18 year old fiancé who held the knife.  Christi pleaded guilty just before her trial, out of fear she might be sentenced to death. A psychiatrist who saw her at the time said she was 'depressed, dependent and insecure' and 'seemed fearful of crossing her fiancé'. She had a history of sexual abuse and had attempted suicide at 13.

While in prison, Christi has gained a degree in agriculture. A prison warden says that Christi is a 'model inmate... who is worthy of a second chance in society.'

On 23 and 24 January the Louisiana parole board will meet to consider Christi's application for a clemency hearing.  If the board does not grant a hearing Christi, who is now 33, will have to wait another seven years before she can make another application.  Read background information

Take action by text now

Call on the Louisiana parole board to grant Christi Cheramie a clemency hearing. To join this appeal, text ACTION followed by your full name to  88080

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What will we do with your name?

We will add your name, but not your phone number, to this letter which we will fax to the Louisiana parole board on Friday 20 January, ahead of their meeting to consider Christi’s application.

Chairman of the Louisiana Pardons Board
Mr Larry Clark
Pardon Board
504 Mayflower Street
Building 6
Baton Rouge, LA 70802
Fax: 001 225 342 2289

Dear Chairman,

Re: Christi Cheramie

We have been made aware of the case of Christi Cheramie from Amnesty International UK and we are extremely concerned for her.

In June 1994, when she was 16 years old, Christi Cheramie was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the killing of her fiancé’s great aunt, Mildred Turnage, in February 1994.

On 23 and 24 January the Louisiana Board of Pardons will decide whether or not to hear the clemency application of Christi Cheramie.

We urge you to grant Christi Cheramie a clemency hearing.  Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole against defendants who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime violates international law.

Please be assured that we are not suggesting that children be excused of their crimes, but that the question of accountability should be addressed in a manner that reflects their immaturity and capacity for development.

A prison warden who oversaw Christi considers her a “model inmate” who has grown into a “remarkable young woman” deserving of “a second chance in society”.

We strongly believe that a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for anyone who was under 18 years old at the time of the crime violates international human rights law.

You may reply to us via Amnesty International UK, whose details can be found at the bottom of this fax.

Thank you for your attention on this urgent matter.

Yours sincerely,

Background information

Christi Cheramie pleaded guilty just before her trial started out of fear that she might be sentenced to death if the trial proceeded. Her plea prevents her from directly appealing against her conviction or sentence. In 2001, Christi Cheramie sought to have her guilty plea withdrawn and testified that she had not understood her rights, what second degree murder really meant or the trial proceedings when she entered her plea. Her application was denied.

The USA is believed to stand alone in sentencing children to life without parole.  Although several countries technically permit the practice, we know of no cases outside the USA where such a sentence has been imposed in recent years. There are at least 2,500 people in the USA serving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were under 18 years old. Christi Cheramie’s case is therefore starkly illustrative of a wider problem, and we're taking this action as part of our efforts to persuade authorities in the USA to bring their country into line with international standards on the treatment of child offenders. In such cases, we do not specify in detail what sentence is appropriate, only that it should conform to international standards.

A sentence of life without parole, when imposed on a defendant who was under 18 at the time of the crime, violates international law and standards which are almost universally accepted around the world.

These standards recognise that, however serious the crime, children, who are still developing physically, mentally and emotionally, do not have the same level of culpability as adults, and require special treatment in the criminal justice system appropriate to their youth and immaturity. The standards emphasise that when children come into conflict with the law, the primary objectives should be the child's best interests and the potential for his or her successful reintegration into society. Life imprisonment without parole is clearly inconsistent with this international obligation.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the USA ratified in 1992, specifically acknowledges the need for special treatment of children in the criminal justice system and emphasises the importance of their rehabilitation. Article 14(4) of the ICCPR states: “In the case of juvenile persons, the procedure shall be such as will take account of their age and the desirability of promoting their rehabilitation”. In 2006, the UN Human Rights Committee, the expert body established by the ICCPR to oversee implementation of the treaty, reminded the USA that sentencing children to life imprisonment without parole is incompatible with the ICCPR. It called on the USA to ensure that no children were subjected to this sentence.

The 193 countries which have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) have further agreed to be bound by the principle, enshrined in Article 37(a), that no person under the age of 18 at the time of the offence should be sentenced to “life imprisonment without the possibility of release”. The USA is the only country apart from Somalia not to have ratified the CRC. However, the USA has signed the Convention and as a signatory, the USA is bound under international law to do nothing which would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty pending its decision to ratify.

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