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December 21, 2010

Split Missouri Supreme Court upholds LWOP adult sentence for 15-year-old cop killer

The Missouri Supreme Court today in a split 4-3 ruling upheld against various challenges an LWOP sentence for a 15-year-old murderer in Missouri v. Andrews, No. SC91006 (Mo. Dec. 21, 2010) (available here). Here is how the majority opinion gets started:

Antonio Andrews appeals the jury's verdict finding him guilty of first degree murder for shooting and killing a police officer and the sentence imposed on him for that crime of life without parole.  This case came directly to this Court because Andrews challenges the constitutional validity of two Missouri statutes.  He challenges Missouri's juvenile-certification statute, § 211.071, RSMo 2000, as violating his right to a jury trial in a criminal prosecution under the Sixth Amendment as applied in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). He also challenges the validity of the mandatory sentencing of a minor to life without parole for committing first degree murder as prescribed by § 565.020, RSMo 2000, as violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.  In addition, Andrews appeals the jury's verdict claiming that there was insufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude Andrews committed first degree murder.  Finally, Andrews claims the trial court erred by overruling his motion in limine, which sought to prevent uniformed police officers from being present during the jury trial.  Affirmed.

A lengthy dissenting opinion by Justice Wolff asserts that the defendant in this case had his Eighth Amendment rights violated.  He states that "[s]entencing juvenile offenders to life without the possibility of parole is cruel and unusual punishment because society’s standards have evolved to prohibit it."  Another lengthy dissenting opinion by Justice Stith finds asserts that the defendant in this case had his Sixth Amendment rights violated.  She states:

When a court decides that a juvenile is to be tried as an adult, Apprendi requires that the Sixth Amendment command of a jury trial be obeyed.  The jury’s verdict alone in this prosecution is insufficient to punish a 15-year-old defendant such as Antonio with a lifetime in prison.  To prosecute Antonio as an adult, and to impose a sentence of life without parole, the additional fact-finding mandated by Missouri’s juvenile certification process also is necessary.  To allow this additional fact-finding to be made by a judge and not by a jury violates the defendant’s fundamental right to a jury under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

It will be very interesting to see if four Justices of the US Supreme Court might have an interest in taking up either of the (crisp?) constitutional issues presented by this case.

December 21, 2010 at 03:24 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Those Missouri Supreme Court Justices who voted that LWOP is unconstitutional should be removed from office.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 21, 2010 8:06:29 PM

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