Sidley has a long-standing commitment — both firmwide and in our local communities — to promoting civil and human rights and social justice and combating institutional racism. Our colleagues across the firm assisted in the advancement of justice in a variety of matters. As a firm, we continue to participate in joint programs with other firms — including, for example, as a founding member of the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA) — to explore ways in which legal action might address racial injustice and other racial and social justice concerns.
We reiterate our commitment to using the power of our collective voices and resources to deepen and extend the work we are already doing to fight racial injustice and to advance the fundamental principles of equity, equality, inclusion, and justice.
As a member of the LFAA, Sidley worked with other LFAA members to produce “The Very Foundation of Good Citizenship: The Legal and Pedagogical Case for Culturally Responsive and Racially Inclusive Public Education for All Students,” a nearly 50-page report for the National Education Association. The report documents the multiple proven benefits of culturally responsive and racially inclusive education, and the ways in which such efforts are permitted and even required by federal and state constitutional mandates. Sidley lawyers contributed extensive legal analysis, research, and support to the publication.
In 1997, Kevin Golphin was a neglected, abused, and emotionally traumatized 17-year-old when a traffic stop for driving without seatbelts tragically escalated in North Carolina and resulted in the deaths of two law enforcement officers. After Kevin had gone from sitting peacefully and unrestrained in the passenger seat of the patrol car to being physically restrained and pepper sprayed by the officers within a matter of a few minutes, his then-19-year-old brother shot both police officers with a high-powered rifle. Kevin then shot both officers again. After being rushed to a trial in which jury selection and proceedings were marked by racism — in a case brought by Kevin’s brother, the North Carolina courts subsequently concluded that the trial violated the State’s Racial Justice Act — Kevin and his brother were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1998.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roper v. Simmons in 2005, which outlawed capital punishment for juvenile offenders, Kevin was resentenced to mandatory life without parole. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016) allowed Kevin to pursue further relief that would make him eligible for parole, and Sidley began representing Kevin in connection with those re-sentencing proceedings in 2020.
The Sidley team quickly learned and then proved that Kevin is now a completely different person than the juvenile who committed criminal offenses in 1997. Even the 1998 trial barely touched on the type of child Kevin was at the time of the crimes. His childhood and adolescence were marred by domestic violence, transience, neglect, and abuse. He rarely felt safe, cared for, or able to trust others, and struggled with multiple diagnosed mental health disorders. Kevin spent two significant periods in residential treatment at nine years old and again from 10 to 12 years old, the first of which was precipitated by him expressing suicidal thoughts and homicidal thoughts directed at his abuser.
During an April 2022 multi-day resentencing hearing, the Sidley team called experts and Kevin himself. The team presented records and testimony about, inter alia, the severity of the abuse, neglect, and mental health challenges Kevin faced in his youth, and, arguably more significantly, his growth throughout his roughly quarter-century incarceration, notwithstanding spending nearly a decade in solitary confinement. As to the latter, while in solitary confinement, Kevin became a voracious reader (when he previously bordered on illiteracy) — devouring books ranging from fantasy fiction to positive philosophy — a writer (using autobiography as a form of catharsis and therapy), and decided to change his life through education and study. After emerging from nearly a decade in solitary confinement, Kevin completed a GED, coursework in positive thinking and anger management, obtained other prison certificates, and has been steadily employed in a variety of prison jobs. As our experts testified, he has also overcome his mental health and emotional impairments that he had at the time of his incarceration and offense. Furthermore, Kevin has not had a prison disciplinary infraction since 2014, despite being housed in a dorm setting in a highly dangerous prison.
Nonetheless and despite that the District Attorney and the court itself repeatedly recognized the changes that Kevin had accomplished, the trial court sustained Kevin’s mandatory life without parole sentence.
The Sidley team has appealed the resentencing decision to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, demonstrating that the resentencing decision violates two North Carolina Supreme Court decisions that were issued after the resentencing decision.
“Our view is that Kevin is the prototypical juvenile offender entitled to relief and for whom life without parole is unconstitutional under recent U.S. Supreme Court and North Carolina precedents. Many people would have succumbed to the adversity that Kevin has faced — both the abuse and neglect he experienced as a child and nearly a decade in solitary confinement — but Kevin’s maturation, determination, and resiliency have seen him profoundly change his life. He is simply not the same person he was when, as a child, he committed his crimes more than 25 years ago. He is most deserving of mercy and an opportunity for release, and we will continue pursuing justice on his behalf.”
— Eamon Joyce, Sidley partner