March 30, 2018
US District Judge concludes Miller applies to 18-year-old murderer to find his mandatory LWOP sentence violates the Eighth Amendment
I just saw this fascinating federal ruling handed down yesterday by US District Judge Janet C. Hall, the Chief Judge of the US District Court for the District of Connecticut, in Cruz v. US, No. 11-CV-787 (D. Conn. March 29, 2018) (available here). The ruling runs 50+ pages, so I will need to read it carefully before opining about it at length. But these excerpts from the start art end of the opinion should reveal why it is worth attention:
Cruz turned 18 on December 25, 1993. On May 14, 1994, when Cruz was 18 years and 20 weeks old, Cruz and another member of the Latin Kings, Alexis Antuna, were given a mission by gang leader Richard Morales. See United States v. Diaz, 176 F.3d 52, 84 (2d Cir. 1999). The mission was to kill Arosmo “Rara” Diaz. See id. Carrying out that mission, Cruz and Antuna shot and killed Diaz and his friend, Tyler White, who happened to be with Diaz at the time. See id. Cruz testified at the hearing before this court that he now admits to committing both murders. See Cruz Tr. at 27. He further testified that Antuna informed him at the time that the leaders of the Latin Kings were debating what would happen to him as a result of his attempt to leave the gang. See id. at 19. According to his testimony, Cruz believed that, if he did not carry out the mission, he himself would be killed. See id....
[W]hen the Roper Court drew the line at age 18 in 2005, the Court did not have before it the record of scientific evidence about late adolescence that is now before this court.
Thus, relying on both the scientific evidence and the societal evidence of national consensus, the court concludes that the hallmark characteristics of juveniles that make them less culpable also apply to 18-year-olds. As such, the penological rationales for imposing mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole cannot be used as justification when applied to an 18-year-old.
The court therefore holds that Miller applies to 18-year-olds and thus that “the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole” for offenders who were 18 years old at the time of their crimes. See Miller, 567 U.S. at 479. As applied to 18-year-olds as well as to juveniles, “[b]y making youth (and all that accompanies it) irrelevant to imposition of that harshest prison sentence, such a scheme poses too great a risk of disproportionate punishment.” See id. As with Miller, this Ruling does not foreclose a court’s ability to sentence an 18-year-old to life imprisonment without parole, but requires the sentencer to take into account how adolescents, including late adolescents, “are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.” See id. at 480.
I think it a near certainty that the feds will appeal this consequential ruling to the Second Circuit and it will be interesting to watch how that court approaches this issue. And, in all likelihood, whatever the outcome in the Second Circuit, a cert petition would follow. So, stay tuned.
March 30, 2018 at 12:06 PM | Permalink
This was a member of an organized crime gang. He was entrusted with a difficult task, to find, kill a target. He performed well, as well as a special ops crew, after much military training. He likely made more money than most of us here. He lived a life most of us could not sustain.
He belonged to an age cohort that would outperform adults. The superior performance would include morality. Late adolescents have a lower violent crime rate than adults.
I do not know how much more culpable anyone could be.
Posted by: David Behar | Mar 30, 2018 12:51:05 PM
Doug, why do you need to read all that drivel? It's a results-driven decision bereft of any support. These are the sorts of decisions that bring the federal judiciary into disrepute.
Posted by: federalist | Apr 1, 2018 5:13:08 PM
I try not to judge books by their covers, federalist. And while you seem confident you can judge the opinion by its result, I actually wanted to see what it says before reaching a judgment. You way is a lot easier, I will readily admit.
Posted by: Doug B | Apr 1, 2018 10:47:02 PM