February 5, 2018
Georgia Supreme Court refuses to extend Miller Eighth Amendment limits on juve sentencing to non-LWOP sentences
A helpful colleague made sure I saw the new short ruling on juvenile sentencing limits handed down by the Supreme Court of Georgia today in Veal v. Georgia, No. S17A1758 (Ga. Feb. 5, 2018) (available here). Here is the meat of the opinion in Veal:
Citing OCGA § 42-9-39(c), appellant notes that the aggregate sentence imposed on him mandates 60 years of prison service before the first opportunity for paroled release. Given his life expectancy, appellant states that even this new sentence is unconstitutional because it amounts to a de facto LWOP sentence, again without any determination of the factors set forth in Veal I which a court is required to find before imposing an LWOP sentence on a convicted defendant who was younger than 18 at the time of the crime. Appellant asserts that reading the Miller and Montgomery Supreme Court opinions as applying only to actual LWOP sentences elevates form over substance and permits the label of the sentence to supersede the actual result of the imposed sentence.
Appellant acknowledges that he is asking this Court to expand the holdings of the Miller and Montgomery Supreme Court opinions. As noted by this Court in Veal I, those cases read together create a substantive rule that before an LWOP sentence may be imposed on one who was a juvenile at the time the crime was committed, the sentencing court must conduct a hearing to determine if that person is one of the exceptionally rare juveniles for whom such a sentence is appropriate because of “a specific determination that he is irreparably corrupt.” Veal I, supra, 298 Ga. at 702. But neither Miller nor Montgomery addressed the imposition of aggregate life-with-parole sentences for multiple convictions or whether sentences other than LWOP require a specific determination that the sentence is appropriate given the offender’s youth and its attendant characteristics, and the nature of the crimes. See Miller, supra, at 465. Appellant points to courts in other jurisdictions that have found Miller-like protections are required for a prison sentence imposed upon a juvenile that exceeds the individual’s life expectancy. See, e.g., State v. Zuber, 152 A3d 197 (N.J. 2017); State v. Null, 836 NW2d 41 (Iowa 2013) (holding under the Iowa constitution that “an offender sentenced to a lengthy term-ofyears sentence should not be worse off than an offender sentenced to life in prison without parole who has the benefit of an individualized hearing under Miller”). On the other hand, other state and federal courts have determined that Miller and Montgomery do not apply to cases that do not involve LWOP sentences but nevertheless involve sentences that, according to the convicted juvenile, are the functional equivalent to a life sentence without the opportunity for parole. See, e.g., Starks v. Easterling, 659 Fed. Appx. 277 (6th Cir. 2016); Bell v. Nogan, 2016 WL 4620369 (D.N.J. Sept. 6, 2016); People v. Sanchez, 2013 WL 3209690 (Cal. Ct. App. June 25, 2013).
Because the Supreme Court has not expanded its mandate that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment as it applies to juvenile offenders requires a sentencer to consider a juvenile’s youth and its attendant characteristics before imposing a sentence other than LWOP, this Court will not do so. Although appellant mentions “the analogous provision of the Georgia Constitution” in his enumerations of error, he offers no argument or citation of authority whatsoever regarding the application of the Georgia Constitution to the case. We therefore deem any state constitutional claim abandoned.
February 5, 2018 at 08:45 PM | Permalink
These state court opinions that say, "The SCOTUS has not said X, so we will not hold as much" are troubling. The state courts have an independent obligation to interpret the Constitution, not just make sure they are following the minimum required by the handful of relevant SCOTUS decisions.
Posted by: John | Feb 6, 2018 11:50:32 AM
My impression is that SCOG thinks Montgomery and Miller were likely not correctly decided. So, to the extent they find eighth amendment problems with juvenile LWOP sentences, they kind of have to be dragged kicking and screaming into it.
Posted by: Andrew Fleischman | Feb 7, 2018 10:22:50 AM
No kidding. The DA in the case specifically sought to end-run Miller/Montgomery with this sentence and the GA S Ct. signed off on their cynical shenanigans. It boggles the mind that this opinion should be owed any deference by the federal courts.
Posted by: John | Feb 7, 2018 11:35:17 AM