Today, Amnesty International USA sent a letter to Illinois governor Pat Quinn calling on him to act before he leaves office to grant clemency to Jacqueline Montanez, who was sentenced to life without parole for a crime she committed when she was 15 years old.
Governor of Illinois
Governor Pat Quinn
Office of the Governor, 207 State House,
Springfield, IL, 62706
Dear Governor Quinn,
I am writing to you out of deep concern for 37 year old Jacqueline Montanez, who has been serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a crime that she committed when she was 15 years old. Before you leave office on January 12, I urge you to grant clemency to Jacqueline. Her sentence is incompatible with international human rights law and principles of juvenile justice respected across the globe.
In 1992 Jacqueline Montanez was charged with first degree murder, and automatically tried in adult criminal court – despite being only 15 years old. If she had been tried in juvenile court, factors such as her age, history of abuse, mental health issues, and amenability to rehabilitation could have been considered. She was convicted of two murders and given a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Imposing such a sentence on anyone under the age of 18 is in direct violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the USA ratified in 1992.
Furthermore, as you know, on June 25, 2012 the US Supreme Court outlawed mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for offenders who were under 18 years old in Miller v. Alabama. Amnesty International applauds the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling that the ban on mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles should be applied retroactively to trigger resentencing for juvenile offenders like Jacqueline, whowere sentenced to life imprisonement prior to the Miller v. Alabama ruling. We hope that these historic rulings help move you to act in the interest of justice.
In calling on you you to grant Jacqueline clemency, I also acknowledge the gravity or her crime and certainly do not mean to suggest that America’s young people under the age of 18 should be excused from all wrongdoing. To the contrary, the question of accountability should be addressed in a manner that reflects that juvenile offenders like Jacqueline are not fully mature and still have the capacity to develop and grow. When children come into conflict with criminal law, our primary objective as a society should be maximizing their potential for successful reintegration into society. To deny the possibility of release is to deny the human capacity to change, and is utterly incompatible with the basc principles of juvenile justice.
Jacqueline Montanez has obtained a high school equivalency diploma. She is a certified trainer of service dogs for disabled people and a published poet. She mentors other inmates and advocates for troubled youth who have been abused and those trapped in the gang lifestyle into which she herself was born.She recalls that “for 15 years of my life I lived being beat up or watching my parents shoot up or delivering drugs for my [step]father, or being raped…I woke up to beatings, cooking his drugs and bagging them. I thought it was normal.” Now 37 years old, Jacqueline Montanez has been incarcerated for 21 years and has expressed deep remorse for her crime. She has accepted full responsibility.
In closing, Governor Quinn, I again ask that you act swiftly on Jacqueline Montanez’s clemency petition, and end a sentence that is totally incompatible with international human rights law and standards pertaining to juvenile justice, as well as the respect for inherent human dignity enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Amnesty International USA