IMPORTANT COURT DECISION CITES ATTORNEY BIRCKHEAD'S RESEARCH
Attorney Birckhead's article was cited several times in the Connecticut Supreme Court's 2022 decision in State v. Keith Belcher, in which the Court ordered a new sentencing hearing because the trial court judge had referred to the defendant, who was only 14 at the time of the offense, as a "superpredator" before sentencing him to 60 years. This is the longest sentence ever imposed on a 14 year old in Connecticut for a non-homicide offense.
Attorney Birckhead's article, The Racialization of Juvenile Justice and the Role of the Defense Attorney appeared in the Boston College Law Review in 2017.
The Connecticut Supreme Court wrote in its opinion:
“[B]y invoking the superpredator theory to sentence the young, Black male defendant in the present case, [the sentence court relied on materially false, racial stereotypes that perpetuate systemic inequities—demanding harsher sentences—that date back to the founding of our nation.”
“[T]he superpredator myth is precisely the type of materially false information that courts should not rely on in making sentencing decisions,” the court held. “The court's reliance on the superpredator theory, and its view that it had to protect society from a charter member of this remorseless group, dominated its sentencing remarks”—it was, the court found, “the prism through which the court viewed this defendant...Consequently, we conclude that reliance on the false and pernicious superpredator theory in the present case so infected the sentencing that the sentence was imposed in an illegal manner."
Articles that appear in law journals are often purely theoretical and have little relevance to real world issues. In her legal scholarship, Attorney Birckhead has always focused on addressing issues that practicing lawyers face in the course of their representation. This is but one recent example.
Practice area(s): Appeals
Court: Connecticut Supreme Court