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November 1, 2011

What might SCOTUS be doing with long-held cases involving 14-year-olds serving LWOP?

At SCOTUSblog, John Elwood does amazing work keeping up with the cases that the US Supreme Court is keeping in its midst for an unusually long time through his periodic post labelled "Relist (and Hold) Watch."  And, in this latest installment, he notes that these two post-Graham challenges to LWOP sentences for 14-year-old murderers have now be relisted a fourth time:

Miller v. Alabama (relisted after the 9/26, 10/7, 10/14, and 10/28 Conferences)

Docket:  10-9646

Issue(s):  Whether imposing a sentence of life without possibility of parole on an offender who was fourteen at the time he committed capital murder constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Certiorari stage documents:

Jackson v. Hobbs (relisted after the 9/26, 10/7, 10/14, and 10/28 Conferences)

Docket:  10-9647

Issue(s):  Whether imposing a sentence of life without possibility of parole on an offender who was fourteen at the time he committed capital murder constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Certiorari stage documents:

As Jon Elwood repeatedly explains, "if a case has been relisted once, it generally means the Court is paying close attention, increasing the chance of a grant.  But once a case has been relisted more than twice, it is generally no longer a likely candidate for plenary review, and is more likely to result in a summary reversal or a dissent from the denial of cert."  Neither Miller nor Jackson would be suitable for summary reversal, so I think the smart money is on one or more Justices putting together a dissent from the denial of cert (and perhaps also one or more Justices putting together a concurrence from the denial of cert).  Of course, we are all just speculating here, but I think maybe some readers would like to be involved in this SCOTUS post-Graham Eighth Amendment speculation.

November 1, 2011 at 04:03 PM | Permalink

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Comments

The second and third issues in Jackson (and the second issue in Miller, which is the same as the third issue in Jackson) make the case even more interesting:

2. Does such a sentence violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments when it is imposed upon a fourteen-year-old who did not personally kill the homicide victim, did not personally engage in any act of physical violence toward the victim, and was not shown even to have anticipated, let alone intended, that anyone be killed?

3. Does such a sentence violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments when it is imposed upon a Fourteen-year-old as a result of a mandatory sentencing scheme that categorically precludes consideration of the offender’s young age or any other mitigating circumstances?

Even if one can conclude that a minor's homicidal conduct may constitutionally be subject to a LWOP sentence, it adds a whole other dimension to the case when a) the offender himself was not the one who engaged in homicidal conduct, and b) the LWOP sentence was mandatory. IMO, these additional questions make the case significantly harder.

Posted by: DEJ | Nov 2, 2011 12:04:34 PM

Out of curiosity, I pulled the docket for Graham, and it was relisted like 4 or 5 times as well. Don't know if that means anything, but more grist for the speculation mill.

Posted by: Anon2 | Nov 2, 2011 12:13:07 PM

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