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April 15, 2008

SCOTUS denies cert in long juve sentence case

On Monday, as detailed in reports from SCOTUSblog and CNN and the New York Times, the Supreme Court denied cert in Pittman v. South Carolina, the juve sentencing case raising constitutional questions about a 30-year mandatory sentence for a 12-year-old killer.  Here is the start of the NYT report:

The Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear an appeal from a South Carolina teenager who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing his grandparents with a shotgun when he was 12 years old.

Without comment, the justices refused to review the sentence imposed on Christopher Pittman, whose case attracted wide attention not only because of his age and the sentence he received, but because his lawyers blamed the antidepressant Zoloft for his violent behavior.

Defense lawyers asked the Supreme Court to consider whether the 30-year term violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment in light of the defendant’s age at the time of the crime.  The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled last June that the boy’s trial had been fair and the punishment was just.

This case will now likely head to a federal district court through a habeas action; it will be very interesting to see if any lower federal court might find merit in the constitutional claims made in Pittman.

UPDATE:  A commentor rightly notes that this case will have to go through the state post-conviction review process before heading into federal habeas.

April 15, 2008 at 12:24 AM | Permalink


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South Carolina has a post-conviction relief process that Pittman will probably have to exhaust before filing his 2254 in federal court. That's still a long ways off since it can take quite a while for the SC trial court to process the PCR application and then for the state supreme court to (in all likelihood) deny discretionary review. And, like many other petitioners, AEDPA surely will be tough on Mr. Pittman.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 15, 2008 12:46:12 AM

"And, like many other petitioners, AEDPA surely will be tough on Mr. Pittman."

Especially in the 4th Circuit!

Posted by: Zack | Apr 15, 2008 9:19:25 AM

Actually, he could go straight to federal habeas if he wanted to so long as he only raised claims that he raised in his direct appeal to the SC Supreme Court. His 8th Amendment claim is fully exhausted.

Posted by: Anonymous 2 | Apr 15, 2008 1:39:39 PM

I would not jump to the conclusion that a PCR would be denied.

If PCR relief is granted in the trial court, even if the South Carolina Supreme Court reverses, a 2254 may have a better chance based on factual findings by the trial court.

Posted by: Stanley Feldman | Apr 15, 2008 5:45:02 PM

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