In mid-2020, students in the Youth Justice Clinic began working on the case of Terence Andrus, who was sentenced to death in Texas based on a crime he committed at 20 years old while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. The Clinic took on the project after the United States Supreme Court remanded Andrus’s case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to determine whether his counsel’s failure to present any evidence of his childhood abuse and adverse experiences at trial impacted his sentencing.
The Clinic worked with local counsel in Texas and several youth justice groups to urge the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to set aside Andrus’s sentence due to this severe mishandling of the case by his court-appointed counsel. Under the supervision of Clinic Director Prof. Mae Quinn, Youth Justice Clinic students Carly Cerak, Pejumae Guscott, Sabrin Qadi, Axana Soltan and Robert Taylor wrote an amicus brief focusing on the youth justice concerns in Andrus’s case.
These concerns included Andrus’s history of abuse and neglect by juvenile justice officials at Texas Youth Commission (TYC), the state’s juvenile prison system. While he was at TYC, Andrus’s mental health emergencies were treated as misbehaviors and exacerbated by long-term placement in solitary confinement. Beyond this, Andrus was ultimately transferred to adult prison for childhood conduct rather than provided with appropriate care, further traumatizing a young person with unmet mental health and other challenges. In fact, TYC made national news for widespread sexual and other abuses of children in its facility.
This summer, in a narrow majority opinion, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Andrus relief, failing to find prejudice, mischaracterizing evidence in the case and discounting the concerns about TYC’s conditions and Andrus’s childhood trauma. In October 2021, Andrus’s attorneys filed a new petition with the United States Supreme Court, seeking a new sentencing.
The Clinic joined again with Texas co-counsel to file a further amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in November 2021, calling for a new sentencing hearing for Andrus. Clinic students Jamie Adams, Mary Brody, Olivia Chick, Tierra Copeland, Karla Hammonds, Chaz Hendrix, Tatyana Hopkins, Gun Lee, Madelyn Roura and Ashley Taylor all contributed to the brief, which was joined by several D.C.-based youth justice groups including the Children’s Defense Fund, First Focus on Children, National Juvenile Defender Center, National Juvenile Justice Network and STND4YOU along with 16 of the country’s leading youth justice experts.