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March 2, 2017

Washington Supreme Court rules Eighth Amendment precludes applying mandatory minimum adult sentencing scheme to juvenile offenders

The Supreme Court of Washington issued a very significant new ruling expanding the reach of the Eighth Amendment as adumbrated by the Supreme Court in Graham and Miller. The extended ruling in Washington v. Houston-Sconiers, No. 92605-1 (Wash. March 2, 2016) (available here), gets started this way:

"[C]hildren are different." Miller v. Alabama,_ U.S. _, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 2470, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407 (2012). That difference has constitutional ramifications: "An offender's age is relevant to the Eighth Amendment, and [so] criminal procedure laws that fail to take defendants' youthfulness into account at all would be flawed." Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 76, 130 S. Ct. 2011, 176 L. Ed. 2d 825 (2010); U.S. CONST. amend. VIII.  The defendants in this case -- Zyion Houston-Sconiers and Treson Roberts -- are children. On Halloween night in 2012, they were 17 and 16 years old, respectively.  They robbed mainly other groups of children, and they netted mainly candy.

But they faced very adult consequences.  They were charged with crimes that brought them automatically into adult (rather than juvenile) court, without any opportunity for a judge to exercise discretion about the appropriateness of such transfers.  They had lengthy adult sentencing ranges calculated under adult Sentencing Reform Act of 1981 (SRA), chapter 9.94A RCW, rules.  And they received lengthy adult firearm sentence enhancements, with their mandatory, consecutive, flat-time consequences, without any opportunity for a judge to exercise discretion about the appropriateness of that sentence increase, either.

As a result, Houston-Sconiers faced a sentencing range of 501-543 months (41.75-45.25 years) in prison.  Clerk's Papers (Houston-Sconiers) (CPHS) at 227.  Of that, 3 72 months (31 years) was attributable to the firearm sentence enhancements and would be served as '"flat time,"' meaning "in total confinement" without possibility of early release. Id.; RCW 9.94A.533(3)(e).  Roberts faced a sentencing range of 441-483 months (36.75-40.25 years) in prison. Clerk's Papers (Roberts) (CPR) at 154.  Of that, 312 months (26 years) would be "'flat time"' attributable to the firearm sentence enhancements. Id.

To their credit, all participants in the system balked at this result. But they felt their hands were tied by our state statutes.

We now hold that the sentencing judge's hands are not tied.  Because "children are different" under the Eighth Amendment and hence "criminal procedure laws" must take the defendants' youthfulness into account, sentencing courts must have absolute discretion to depart as far as they want below otherwise applicable SRA ranges and/or sentencing enhancements when sentencing juveniles in adult court, regardless of how the juvenile got there.  We affirm all convictions but remand both cases for resentencing.

March 2, 2017 at 06:35 PM | Permalink


Those are not children. Those are real adults, mislabeled by the denier lawyer.

They are different. They are more deviant, being 10 times more cold hearted, impulsive, and dangerous than adults. They are not different under the Eighth Amendment. These lawyers on the bench are lying.

These pro-murderer judges must be impeached.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 2, 2017 10:11:33 PM

David, how about you and your negativity go find an Island in the pacific without internet connections and get bent.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Mar 3, 2017 8:03:06 AM

How about you stop being a denier about these vicious murderers?

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 3, 2017 9:55:50 AM

Mr. Behar, these defendants were not "vicious murderers." They didn't murder anyone.

Posted by: Mary from Virginia | Mar 3, 2017 2:07:31 PM

Mary. Teens who steal candy do not get tried as adults. It is mostly murderers and members of gangs. The authors are arguing in bad faith by finding an extremely atypical single example.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 3, 2017 3:22:20 PM


There is no point in debating Supremacy Claus. We must ignore him until he goes away.


Posted by: Bruce Cunningham | Mar 4, 2017 11:07:25 AM

Bruce. I left, but Bill asked me to return. The blog is filled with controversial and biased postings, worthy of discussion. I like it when Prof. B stonewalls, and I have to dig deeper.

Here is a legal source describing the criteria for referral to adult court. No candy stealing is seen.


Posted by: David Behar | Mar 4, 2017 11:31:20 AM

How many people requesting you to leave would it take?

Posted by: Bruce Cunningham | Mar 4, 2017 11:34:50 AM

All of them, and even that would not be enough.

Actually, I am glad he came back.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 4, 2017 2:51:58 PM

Bruce. One specific person.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 4, 2017 2:59:39 PM

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