Sunday, November 09, 2014

Florida Supreme Court dealing with Miller retroactivity issue after legislative fix

As reported in this local Florida piece, headlined "Supreme Court ponders life sentences for juveniles," the Sunshine State's top court this past week was starting to puzzle through what Miller and new state legislation mean for old juve LWOP sentences. Here are the details:

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday heard arguments in a debate about sentencing for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder. Pointing to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, two inmates who are serving life in prison for murders they committed as juveniles are challenging their sentences.

The ruling, in a case known as Miller v. Alabama, banned mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder. Juveniles can still face life sentences in such cases, but judges must weigh criteria such as the offenders’ maturity and the nature of the crimes before imposing that sentence.

On Thursday, attorneys for Rebecca Lee Falcon and Anthony Duwayne Horsley argued that the ruling — and a new state law that carries it out — should apply retroactively to their clients, giving them the possibility of release.

The session was lively, with most of the Florida justices’ questions directed at what the Legislature intended by passing the new law. An underpinning of the Miller ruling was that juveniles are different from adults and function at different stages of brain development, so that a life sentence without the possibility of parole violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment....

Lawmakers this spring approved new juvenile sentencing guidelines that went into effect July 1 in response to Miller and to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Graham v. Florida.

The Miller and Graham rulings have spawned legal questions in Florida courts since the Graham ruling was handed down. It took lawmakers that long to agree on the sentencing guidelines, but this year — reluctant to leave it to courts to decide on a case-by-case basis — did so unanimously. That’s almost unheard of,” Justice Barbara Pariente said. “It’s the entire Legislature saying, after lots of hearings, ‘We think this is both good from a policy point of view as well as faithful to Miller.’ “

Under the new law, a juvenile convicted of a murder classified as a capital felony could be sentenced to life in prison after a hearing to determine whether such a sentence is appropriate. If a judge finds that a life sentence is not appropriate, the juvenile would be sentenced to at least 35 years. Also, juveniles convicted in such cases would be entitled to reviews after 25 years....

On Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Kellie Nielan argued that a life sentence does not violate the Constitution if it includes the option of parole. But Justice Ricky Polston said that would create new questions, due to Florida abolishing parole decades ago on new crimes. A commission still hears cases from before the time parole was abolished.

“If there’s no parole, are you asking this court to order the parole commission to hear these cases even though we don’t have the power of the purse?” Polston asked. “We can’t give them the money or authorization to do this. Are you asking us to — from the bench — require a branch of government to enact the parole commission that’s been abolished?”

“I’m asking this court to follow precedent,” Nielan said. “I understand that we have to fashion a remedy for this.” But while the new law was designed to bring Florida into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings, it doesn’t mention retroactivity.

And in July, when the Florida Supreme Court asked attorneys representing juvenile offenders to weigh in on the new law, Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, the Senate sponsor, said it was not intended to address retroactivity. “We were simply looking at a statutory scheme that was clearly unconstitutional,” the Fleming Island Republican told The News Service of Florida. “We were looking at two United States Supreme Court decisions that set forth certain parameters, and we developed a sentencing framework that complied with those two decisions. As far as how that applied individually to individual defendants, we’ll leave that to the court system.”

November 9, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, October 06, 2014

SCOTUS keeps rejecting important follow-up Graham and Miller issues

The Supreme Court this morning issued this lengthy order list that has 60+ pages listing case after case for which the Justices have denied certiorari review.  Not suprisingly, folks are surprised to discover that all the same-sex marriage cases brought to the court over the summer are on the cert denied list (SCOTUSblog discussion here, AP discussion here).  

Sentencing fans will also be interested to learn about another group of notable state cases on the cert denied list this morning.  A helpful reader provided this account: "For what it’s worth, the US Supreme Court declined to hear at least three virtual LWOP cases (Goins v. Lazaroff, Barnette v. Ohio, and Bunch v. Ohio). They also declined to hear at least two cases on the retroactivity of Miller, including one that was an appeal by a state (Evans v. Ohio and Nebraska v. Mantich)."  

I have long believed it will only be a matter of time before the Justices take up at least a few important follow-up Graham and Miller Eighth Amendment issues. These cert denials suggest that the Justices are content to let the issues continue to be resolved only by lower courts for the foreseeable future.  

October 6, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

"The Miller Revolution"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Cara Drinan now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles — even those convicted of homicide. In this Article, I argue that the Miller decision was, indeed, revolutionary and that, if lower courts and legislators heed the moral leadership of the Miller Court, they could set in motion a return to the juvenile justice model this country began with more than a century ago.

This article proceeds in three parts.  Part I traces the development of mandatory juvenile sentences in this country and identifies two key forces driving that development: the practice of transferring juvenile cases to adult court and the emergence of determinate sentencing schemes.  Part II is the heart of the article.  It examines the Miller decision, as well as its immediate predecessor cases, at a granular level.  Having done so, Part II surveys the numerous calls for an expansive reading of Miller that academics and advocates have made to date.  Part II then shifts to argue that, indeed, Miller should be read expansively, but that some corollaries of Miller are more readily defensible than others.  In particular, I argue that Miller lays the foundation for: 1) the elimination of mandatory minimums as they apply to children and 2) the creation of procedural safeguards for children facing life without parole comparable to those in place for adults facing the death penalty.  Part III addresses the likely objections to my two specific proposals and maintains that, despite the concerns of the dissenting Justices in Miller, there are several limiting principles even to an expansive reading of Miller.  Finally, by way of conclusion, I note that already there are signs of progressive juvenile justice reform at the state level consistent with the reading of Miller I propose herein and that, in some ways, the Miller revolution is already underway.

August 5, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, August 04, 2014

Check your local PBS listings for "15 to Life: Kenneth's Story"

1234959_719906504692104_315759303_nPremiering this week on PBS stations is this new documentary titled "15 to Life: Kenneth's Story." The documentary discusses life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders with a focus on a Florida defendant, Kenneth Young, who at age 15 received four consecutive life sentences for a series of armed robberies. Here is part of the description of the film from this PBS website:

In June 2000, 14-year-old Kenneth Young was convinced by a 24-year-old neighborhood crack dealer — Kenneth's mother's supplier — to join him on a month-long spree of four armed robberies.  The older man planned the Tampa, Fla. heists and brandished the pistol— and, on one occasion, he was talked out of raping one of the victims by his young partner.  Fortunately, no one was physically injured during the crimes, although the trauma that resulted was immeasurable.

When they were caught, Kenneth didn't deny his part.  It was his first serious scrape with the law.  But at 15, he was tried under Florida law as an adult.  Astoundingly, he received four consecutive life sentences — guaranteeing that he would die in prison.  15 to Life: Kenneth's Story follows the young African-American man’s battle for release, after more than 10 years of incarceration, much of it spent in solitary confinement.  The film is also a disturbing portrait of an extraordinary fact: The United States is the only country in the world that condemns juveniles to life without parole.

Kenneth’s sentence was not a rarity.  As 15 to Life shows, there are more than 2,500 juveniles serving life sentences in the United States for non-lethal crimes, as well as for murder.  In the 1990s, many states reacted to a rise in violent youth crimes by amending their laws to allow more juveniles to be tried as adults.  Then, in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that life sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes other than murder were unconstitutional.  That made 77 Florida inmates, including Kenneth, eligible for early release.  But how would the Florida courts, historically in favor of juvenile life sentences, apply the Supreme Court decision to a decade-old case?...

At the core of the story, of course, stands Kenneth, now 26, who is candid about his crimes.  He says he has followed a path of self-improvement and is remorseful for what he did, even as he remains flabbergasted about his punishment.  (Oddly enough, in a separate trial, Jacques Bethea, the older man who organized the robberies and who carried the gun, received a single life sentence.)

At his hearing for a reduced sentence, Kenneth tells the court, "I have lived with regret every day ... I have been incarcerated for 11 years and I have taken advantage of every opportunity available for me in prison to better myself ... I am no longer the same person I used to be.  First Corinthians, Chapter 13, Verse 11 says: 'When I was a child I thought as a child.  When I became a man I put away all childish things.'  I want to turn around and apologize to my victim for what I did."

Kenneth's plight elicits mixed reactions.  While some of his victims are inclined to see him let go, others, along with the prosecutor, defend the original punishment.  Kenneth's contention that the older man coerced his cooperation by threatening his mother is dismissed, because he didn't speak up as a 15-year-old at his original trial.  And arguments that Kenneth's new sentence should take into account his rehabilitation may not convince this Florida court.

UPDATE A helpful reader noted that through September 3, folks can view the program online at the PBS website here.

August 4, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Film, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Hawaii legislatively eliminates all juve LWOP sentences for all crimes

As reported in this AP piece, headlined "Hawaii ends juvenile life sentences without parole," a new piece of legislation means and and all "life sentences without parole for minors are now abolished in Hawaii." Here are the basics:

Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill Wednesday recognizing that children convicted of first-degree murder should be treated differently than murderous adults.

Advocates say children are impressionable and sometimes can't get out of horrific, crime-ridden environments. Honolulu prosecutors argued the measure isn't fair to people who are born weeks apart from slightly younger perpetrators of the same crime.

July 3, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, June 20, 2014

"A Suggested Minor Refinement of Miller v. Alabama"

The title of this post is the title of this new Comment by Devina Douglas now available via SSRN. Here is part of the abstract:

While some heralded the recent United States Supreme Court’s Miller v. Alabama decision — forbidding mandatory life without parole (LWOP) sentences for juveniles — as a step in the right direction for protecting the interests of juveniles within the adult criminal justice system, the decision is also a step backwards for the ability states to sentence their criminals as they sees fit....  This Comment argues the Court spoke too broadly applying its rule to all minors.

This essay will first summarize the Supreme Court’s previous sentencing precedent, the cases that paved the way for the Miller decision — establishing that “children are different,” — and then the Miller decision.  Next, it will highlight the troubles lower courts have faced in trying to implement the decision, the flaws in, and alternative interpretations of, the science relied upon, and then turn to the question of whether juveniles over the age of sixteen have reached sufficient maturity as to allow the system to hold them as accountable as adults for homicide crimes.  In response to the likelihood that those sixteen and over are sufficiently mature, this Comment will propose a way to preserve deference to the various state legislatures’ sentencing decisions while addressing increasing concern that juveniles should be treated differently.  The Miller pre-sentencing evaluation factors should only apply categorically to those under sixteen, and those sixteen and seventeen in cases where the juvenile offender is quite young or possesses what the Court calls twice-diminished culpability: where the system convicted the offender under an aiding and abetting or accomplice theory, or felony murder.

June 20, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, May 09, 2014

Connecticut debate spotlights how fights over death penalty can impede other needed reforms

Long time readers know that one of my enduring frustrations with debates over the fate of death penalty concerns how this debate can sometimes get in the way of other important criminal justice work.  A notable new example of this dynamic was on display this week in Connecticut, as evidenced by this local article headlined "Juvenile Sentencing Bill Fails Second Year In A Row." Here are the basic details:

A barrage of amendments, a planned Republican filibuster over the merits of reviving the death penalty, and recent charges against a Milford teen in the fatal stabbing of a classmate scuttled a criminal justice bill on the last day of the 2014 session.

The bill would have offered inmates serving long prison sentences for crimes they committed at a young age a chance at freedom.  The measure was crafted in response to two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, in 2010 and 2012.  The court held that life sentences for offenders younger than 18 are unconstitutional and that juvenile offenders must be given a "meaningful opportunity" to seek release.

The legislation cleared the House of Representatives on a broad and bipartisan vote in early April. But for the second year in a row, it failed to come up in the Senate by midnight Wednesday, when the General Assembly adjourned.  Republicans signaled to Democratic leaders that they were going to block the bill by filing 22 amendments, including one to reinstate the death penalty in Connecticut for convicted terrorists and another to eliminate a program that aims to rehabilitate prisoners by offering them credit toward early release....

Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams said there were enough votes to pass the measure. But, facing Republican opposition and wanting to avoid votes on controversial issues like the death penalty, Williams opted not to bring the bill up....

The proposed bill was based on recommendations by the non-partisan Connecticut Sentencing Commission. It would have permitted prisoners who committed crimes as teenagers and are serving prison terms of 20 years or less to be eligible for a sentence review after they had served 60 percent of their time.  Inmates serving 50 years or more could receive that "second look" 30 years into their sentences.  The proposal would not have guaranteed freedom for the inmates but would have given them the opportunity to argue their case at a special parole hearing with highly restrictive criteria.

"We're disappointed with what happened in the Senate," said David M. Borden, a retired state Supreme Court justice who chairs the Sentencing Commission, the panel charged with reviewing criminal justice policy and proposing legislation.  The commission's members include prosecutors, defense attorneys, police, corrections officials and the state victims advocate.  "When you look at the bill dispassionately and look at the facts dispassionately and clear away all the underbrush of things that don't have anything to do with it, it's a very good bill," Borden said Thursday.  "To the extent politics got in the way, well, we live in the real world ... we'll take the consequences."

The commission will meet in June and determine whether it will push for the measure again in 2015.  "I don't think there's going to be a strong sentiment for giving up this fight," Borden said.  He said 70 inmates in Connecticut already have filed cases seeking revisions in their sentences, based on the two Supreme Court rulings.  "This bill would have set down reasonable parameters for how these cases should be handled," Borden said.

In the absence of legislation setting a legal framework, the decision of how to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings likely will be left to state courts, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday. "Don't be surprised if it goes to court,"  Malloy said. The courts "will do what the [legislature] should have done and perhaps do more." 

May 9, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

NY Times editorial laments "Echoes of the Superpredator"

While traveling, I missed this recent New York Times editorial discussing the persistence of tough juve sentencing laws after superpredator fears have receded.  Here are excerpts:

News reports — usually featuring images of glowering black teenagers — warned of the coming wave of violence that would flood the country. Respected criminologists bought into and amplified the hysteria.  Most destructively, almost every state passed laws making it easier to prosecute juveniles as adults, by increasing the number of crimes or reducing the age that triggered adult prosecution — and in some cases eliminating the minimum age altogether....

Two decades later, it’s easy to look back in judgment, but it would be a mistake to think the nation has fully moved beyond that mind-set.  Many states continue to punish juveniles as harshly as they can, even though the Supreme Court has held in a series of landmark rulings since 2005 that young people are “constitutionally different” from adults....

Some states have taken the court’s rulings, and its reasoning, to heart.  Since the ruling in Miller, five states have abolished juvenile life without parole in all cases.  In March, West Virginia lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill that provides parole review for any juvenile who serves at least 15 years in adult prisons.  Similar legislation is pending in Connecticut and Hawaii.

But other states keep fighting to prevent their juvenile offenders from ever having the chance to see the light of day.  Michigan now gives judges the “choice” of imposing a minimum sentence of 25 to 60 years instead of life without parole. Courts in other states have refused to apply the Supreme Court’s ruling retroactively, stranding many of the more than 2,000 inmates who were sentenced before the Miller decision.

The issue is not, as supporters of mandatory sentencing would have it, about going easy on criminals.  No one is ordering judges to release inmates who are not rehabilitated, or who pose a threat to society.  Rather, it is about giving legal meaning to the neurological, psychological and emotional vulnerabilities of young people. Those who make mistakes — even terrible ones — should not be sentenced to die in prison.

The myth of the superpredator helped spawn a generation of misguided laws that treated young people as adults, despite evidence that doing so actually increases recidivism. Most of these laws remain in effect.  The Supreme Court has rightly begun to dismantle their constitutional foundations, but some states are determined to act as if it were always 1995.

Recent related post:

April 15, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Bombshell or Babystep? The Ramifications of Miller v. Alabama for Sentencing Law and Juvenile Crime Policy"

The title of this post is the title of this symposium foreword authored by Paul Litton and now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This short essay, which serves as the Symposium Foreword, argues that the rationale of Miller is incoherent insofar as it permits juvenile LWOP sentences and that the Court misidentifies the foundational principle of Roper.  

First, in banning mandatory juvenile LWOP sentences, the Court invokes Woodson, which bans mandatory death sentences.  The Court maintains that Woodson, from its capital jurisprudence, applies because juvenile LWOP is “akin to the death penalty” for juveniles. But if the Court’s capital jurisprudence is binding based on that equivalence, Roper should imply that juvenile LWOP, like the death penalty, is unconstitutional for juveniles.  This essay briefly explores whether there is a principled reason for the Court to invoke Woodson but not Roper from its capital jurisprudence.

Second, the Court does cite Roper for its “foundational principle,” which is, according to the Court, “that imposition of a State’s most severe penalties on juvenile offenders cannot proceed as though they were not children.”  However, this principle cannot be the bedrock of Roper.  Since Lockett, state capital sentencing schemes have not proceeded as though juvenile offenders were not children.  Juvenile capital defendants could introduce their youth and accompanying characteristics in mitigation.  Roper, therefore, is based on a much stronger principle, one that requires categorical removal of juveniles from the universe of death-eligible defendants and, thus, should imply the same for penalties equivalent to death.

This Foreword also provides a guide to the symposium’s wonderful contributions by Nancy Gertner, Will Berry, Frank Bowman, Josh Gupta-Kagan, Michael O’Hear, Clark Peters, Mary Price, and Mae Quinn.  In doing so, it highlights a fascinating theme running through many authors’ answer to whether Miller represents a “bombshell or babystep”: Miller’s implications for the Court’s methodology for conducting proportionality analyses and, specifically, for the role of “objective indicia” of public attitudes in such analyses.

April 12, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

How many states now require judges to consider military service and/or PTSD at sentencing?

The question in the title of this post is prompted in part by this short local article headlined "Calif. Bill Urges Judges To Consider PTSD In Sentencing Of Military Veterans." Here are the basics:

A bill moving through the state Legislature would urge judges to grant probation and give shorter prison terms to defendants who have mental health problems stemming from their military service.

AB2098 passed the Assembly on Monday on a 70-1 vote.  It requires courts to consider post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues in sentencing.  The bill’s author, Democrat Marc Levine of San Rafael, says as many as one in five soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD and are more likely to commit crimes.

California law already requires judges to consider ordering treatment when granting probation for veterans with mental illness.  The bill is one of several that address how to deal with veterans in the criminal justice system.  It now heads to the Senate.

I view legislative action regarding consideration of military service and/or PTSD at sentencing to be part of a broader set of modern sentencing developments focused on the importance of offender characteristics. The modern structured/guidelines sentencing reform era has often generated laws and practices suggesting sentencing decision-making could and should focus much more, if not exclusively, on the specifics of an offense rather than the nature of the offender.

But the Supreme Court's recent Eighth Amendment rulings in Graham and Miller now suggest that an offender's youth is a constitutionally essential sentencing consideration (at least in some settings).  State sentencing laws requiring consideration of military service and/or PTSD seems another example of the (post-modern?) view that consideration at sentencing of at least some offender characteristics may be essential to a fair and effective sentencing system.

Some older related posts:

April 8, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Monday, March 24, 2014

What procedural rights should juve killers have at parole proceedings?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this intriguing article in the Boston Herald headlined "Killers convicted as teens could make bids for parole concessions." The piece highlights some of the intriguing and potentially controversial procedural issues that necessarily arise if and whenever a state has to figure out just what it means to give serious juvenile offenders a meaningful chance to secure parole release from a life sentence.  Here are the details:

A killer whose court victory cleared the way for dozens of lifers convicted as teens to seek freedom is expected to make new demands before a judge today, including giving cons the opportunity to cross-examine anyone who argues against their release. But Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said Gregory Diatchenko — who was 17 in 1981 when he plunged a knife through the face and heart of 55-year-old Thomas Wharf in Kenmore Square while screaming, “Give me your money, you (expletive),” — is asking too much.

“What he’s asking for would essentially give him a new trial on a first-degree murder charge for which he was already found guilty. This is a case of a convicted killer being given an inch and now demanding a mile,” Conley said.

The Supreme Judicial Court, in a controversial bombshell decision dropped on Christmas Eve that mirrored a 2012 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled that keeping teen killers behind bars without a chance of parole was cruel and unusual punishment because children under age 18 lack the ability to appreciate their crimes. The court, ruling on an appeal by Diatchenko, found teen killers should be given a “meaningful opportunity to be considered for parole suitability” after 15 years of incarceration.

A single SJC justice, Margot Botsford, will hear Diatchenko’s arguments today for new Parole Board rules for those convicted of murder as teens. Lawyers for Diatchenko and the Parole Board did not respond to requests for comment. Conley’s office said Diatchenko’s requests include having an appointed hearing attorney, expert defense witnesses, and the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses against him.

Conley contends, “The SJC has determined that this defendant is entitled to a parole hearing.  He shouldn’t also be afforded an unprecedented array of tactics to use at that hearing.”

Steve Brodie of Groveland, whose daughter Beth was bludgeoned to death in 1992 at age 15, told the Herald he is alarmed to learn hearings could include cross-
examination. “We don’t know where it ends,” Brodie said. Richard Baldwin, 37, who was 16 when he killed Beth Brodie, is among 61 lifers whose hearings for parole are expected to begin soon.

Personally, I do not view a defendant's request for an attorney and an opportunity to present and cross-examine witnesses at a significant sentencing proceeding to amount to a demand to "be afforded an unprecedented array of tactics."  But then again, it is easy for a lawyer and law professor like me to say that the traditional trial procedures secured for defendants by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments ought to be given very broad application in parole proceedings. 

The US Supreme Court has never thoroughly considered or carefully articulated exactly which traditional trial rights defendants retain or lack throughout traditional parole decision-making, though SCOTUS jurisprudence suggests that all defendants retain at least some minimal due process rights in parole proceedings.  Critically, though, these important procedural issues have not (yet) been seriously explored in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent substantive and procedural Eighth Amendment decisions in Graham and Miller concerning limits on juve LWOP sentencing. 

March 24, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ohio Supreme Court explains how Miller is to be applied in discretionary juve LWOP system

The Ohio Supreme Court this morning handed down a lengthy split decision in Ohio v. Long, No. . 2014-Ohio-849 (March 12, 2014) (available here), which explain how the Eighth Amendment rules in Miller, which only formally declare conconstitutional a mandatory juve LWOP sentencing scheme, are to be applied in a system that already gave sentencing judges discretion in cases in which juve killers were made eligible for an LWOP sentence. Here is the start and some additional excerpts from the majority opinion: 

In this case, we are asked whether a trial court violates the Eighth Amendment by imposing a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for an aggravated murder committed by a juvenile.  We hold that a court, in exercising its discretion under R.C. 2929.03(A), must separately consider the youth of a juvenile offender as a mitigating factor before imposing a sentence of life without parole in light of Miller v. Alabama, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012)....

As applied to a juvenile found guilty of aggravated murder under R.C. 2929.03(A), then, Ohio’s sentencing scheme does not fall afoul of Miller, because the sentence of life without parole is discretionary.  Nor is our criminal procedure flawed under Graham and Miller by failing to take into account that a defendant is a youthful offender.  Nevertheless, for clarification we expressly hold that youth is a mitigating factor for a court to consider when sentencing a juvenile.  But this does not mean that a juvenile may be sentenced only to the minimum term.  The offender’s youth at the time of the offense must still be weighed against any statutory consideration that might make an offense more serious or an offender more likely to recidivate.  Yet because a life-without-parole sentence implies that rehabilitation is impossible, when the court selects this most serious sanction, its reasoning for the choice ought to be clear on the record....

Although Miller does not require that specific findings be made on the record, it does mandate that a trial court consider as mitigating the offender’s youth and attendant characteristics before imposing a sentence of life without parole.  For juveniles, like Long, a sentence of life without parole is the equivalent of a death penalty.  Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2463, 183 L.Ed.2d 407.  As such, it is not to be imposed lightly, for as the juvenile matures into adulthood and may become amenable to rehabilitation, the sentence completely forecloses that possibility...

The United States Supreme Court has indicated in Roper, Graham, and Miller that juveniles who commit criminal offenses are not as culpable for their acts as adults are and are more amenable to reform. We agreed with this sentiment in In re C.P., 131 Ohio St.3d 513, 2012-Ohio-1446, 967 N.E.2d 729.  Miller did not go so far as to bar courts from imposing the sentence of life without the possibility of parole on a juvenile.  Yet because of the severity of that penalty, and because youth and its attendant circumstances are strong mitigating factors, that sentence should rarely be imposed on juveniles.  Miller, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. at 2469, 183 L.Ed.2d 407.  In this case, the trial court must consider Long’s youth as mitigating before determining whether aggravating factors outweigh it.

March 12, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"The Supreme Court and the Rehabilitative Ideal"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Chad Flanders now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Graham v. Florida was a watershed decision, not least because of the centrality of the so-called “rehabilitative ideal” to its holding that life in prison for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide crimes was cruel and unusual.  The Court’s emphasis on rehabilitation was surprising both in terms of the Court’s previous decisions on punishment, in which rehabilitation was barely included as a “purpose of punishment,” but also in terms of the history of academic and legislative skepticism if not hostility toward the idea of rehabilitation (which includes two recently decided sentencing cases, Tapia and Pepper). Courts and commentators have struggled to make sense of both the meaning and the scope of Graham’s rehabilitative holding.  Their struggle is one about defining how (and whether) rehabilitation should play any substantial role in sentencing.

My essay places Graham in the context of the recent history of rehabilitation, and views its attempt to “rehabilitate” rehabilitation in light of that history.  The rehabilitative ideal encompasses not just one model, but three: the mostly discredited model of rehabilitation as treatment, a more modest model of rehabilitation as training, and an older model of rehabilitation as reform.  Both the language and the result of Graham show it to be squarely in the tradition of the third model, where rehabilitation is not something the state provides, but something the offender is supposed to undergo, through a process of reflection, remorse, and atonement.  Rehabilitation as reform is notable because it is compatible with a suspicion that prison in general is a bad place for rehabilitation and that it is unlikely that the state can do anything to positively aid the offender in reforming.  At best, the state must get out of the way.  Whether we want to extend Graham or reject it depends on whether we find its ideal of rehabilitation as reform appealing.

February 26, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"The Illusory Eighth Amendment"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by John Stinneford now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Although there is no obvious doctrinal connection between the Supreme Court’s Miranda jurisprudence and its Eighth Amendment excessive punishments jurisprudence, the two are deeply connected at the level of methodology.  In both areas, the Supreme Court has been criticized for creating “prophylactic” rules that invalidate government actions because they create a mere risk of constitutional violation.  In reality, however, both sets of rules deny constitutional protection to a far greater number of individuals with plausible claims of unconstitutional treatment than they protect.

This dysfunctional combination of over- and underprotection arises from the Supreme Court’s use of implementation rules as a substitute for constitutional interpretation.  A growing body of scholarship has shown that constitutional adjudication involves at least two distinct judicial activities: interpretation and implementation.  Prophylactic rules are defensible as implementation tools that are necessary to reduce error costs in constitutional adjudication.

This Article contributes to implementation rules theory by showing that constitutional interpretation, defined as a receptive and non-instrumental effort to understand constitutional meaning, normally must precede constitutional implementation.  When the Supreme Court constructs implementation rules without first interpreting the Constitution, the rules appear arbitrary and overreaching because they do not have a demonstrable connection to constitutional meaning.  Such rules also narrow the scope of the Constitution itself, denying protection to any claimant who does not come within the rules.  The only way to remedy this dysfunction and provide meaningful protection across a broad range of cases is to interpret the Constitution before implementing it.

February 11, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Death Penalty Reforms, Graham and Sullivan Eighth Amendment cases, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Recommended reading, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, January 24, 2014

Notable early Massachusetts legislative response to elimination of juve LWOP

This Boston Globe article, headlined "Bill seeks at least 35 years for young killers," reports on a proposed statutory response to the recent ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (discussed here) which declared that that "all life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders, whether mandatory or discretionary, violate art. 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights." Here are the basics:

A group of state lawmakers is proposing legislation that would require juvenile murderers to serve at least 35 years in prison before being eligible for parole, in direct response to a Supreme Judicial Court ruling that struck down life sentences without the possibility of parole for young killers.

The bipartisan bill would also require the state Parole Board, in deciding whether to grant early release, to consider whether a teenager convicted of murder had the maturity and sense of responsibility of an adult when carrying out the crime.

The bill was based on the recommendation last week of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association and was meant to fill a legal void left by the Supreme Judicial Court decision in December that eliminated sentences of life without parole for juveniles, even those convicted of the most horrendous crimes. “It’s about the injustice this would mean for the victims’ families,” said state Senator Barry Finegold, a Democrat from Andover and one of the sponsors of the legislation.

Senator minority leader Bruce Tarr, a Republican from Gloucester who cosponsored the bill, added that he has spoken with the families of murder victims and “their loss is no less because their suffering was at the hands of a juvenile.”...

According to state officials, approximately 66 prisoners who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles could now be eligible for parole. No hearings have been scheduled.

Joshua Dohan — director of the youth advocacy division for the state Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state’s public defender agency — questioned how the state legislators reached the 35-year mark. Dohan pointed out that international standards, agreeing that teenagers have mindsets that are different from those of adults, call for juvenile sentences of, on average, no more than 20 years in prison, even for murder.

He said legislators are reacting quickly to a sensitive issue, but that they should slow down the process. He called for lawmakers to give judges discretion to hand out punishments, so they could consider a teenager’s culpability in a crime. “These are really important decisions that are going to affect the defendant, but also their families and the families of their victims,” he said....

Tarr and Finegold, flanked by a group of legislators who sponsored the bill, said the 35-year limit is a balance between holding a teenager accountable for his or her crimes and preserving the constitutional issues cited by the courts. Other states, reacting to the US Supreme Court decision, have passed a variety of laws: Wyoming, for instance, offers parole after 25 years.

“While it’s not an ideal situation, we hope this will bring a measure of comfort to the victims’ families,” said Finegold, who said he was working on behalf of Colleen Ritzer, the Danvers High School teacher who was killed in October, allegedly by a student.

A few other recent related posts:

January 24, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Review for Release: Juvenile Offenders, State Parole Practices, and the Eighth Amendment"

The title of this post is the title of this informative and interesting new paper by Sarah French Russell now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

State parole boards have historically operated free from constitutional constraints when making decisions about whether to release prisoners. Recent Supreme Court decisions subject states to a new constitutional requirement to provide a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release” for at least some categories of juvenile offenders. Using original data collected through a survey, this Article provides the first comprehensive description of existing parole board release procedures nationwide and explores whether these practices comply with the Court's Eighth Amendment mandate.

The Court's recent decisions in Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama prohibit sentences of life without the possibility of release (LWOP) for juvenile offenders in nonhomicide cases and forbid mandatory LWOP sentences in homicide cases. States must now provide nonhomicide juvenile offenders with a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release” and give judges the option of imposing a sentence with the chance of release on homicide offenders. Around the country, state courts, legislatures, and governors have started to respond to Graham and Miller. Yet there is little scholarship focusing on a central issue raised by these cases: What constitutes a meaningful opportunity to obtain release under the Eighth Amendment? The Court has declined to provide detailed guidance on the matter, stating that “[i]t is for the State, in the first instance, to explore the means and mechanisms for compliance.”

Viewed in the context of the Court's earlier Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, the meaningful opportunity for release requirement appears to encompass three distinct components: (1) a chance of release at a meaningful point in time, (2) a realistic likelihood of release for the rehabilitated, and (3) a meaningful opportunity to be heard. For the most part, states have responded to Graham and Miller by making juvenile offenders eligible for release under existing and long-standing parole board procedures. To date, the debate in the states has focused primarily on the first component of the meaningful opportunity requirement-when a juvenile offender should be eligible for release. Most states have paid little attention to whether existing parole board practices satisfy the other two components of the meaningful opportunity requirement. These practices, which were designed for a different purpose, may not offer a realistic chance of release and meaningful hearings for juvenile offenders.

Parole procedures in every state are different, and many parole boards operate under unwritten and unpublished rules. To understand existing practices, I sent a survey to every parole board in the country. The survey results revealed procedures that, while adequate for adult offenders, may not survive Eighth Amendment scrutiny when applied to juvenile offenders under Graham and Miller. Such procedures include (1) preventing prisoners from appearing before decision makers, (2) denying prisoners the right to see and rebut evidence, and (3) limiting the role of counsel. I conclude that some states may not be able to rely on their existing parole board practices to provide a meaningful opportunity for release, and may need to craft special rules for considering release of juvenile offenders serving lengthy sentences.

January 21, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Recommended reading, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, January 20, 2014

One tale (of thousands) of a juve LWOPer now with a glimmer of hope

Former federal judge and law professor Nancy Gertner authored this notable Boston Globe commentary concerning a former client of hers who might now benefit from how Massachusetts courts are responding to the Supreme Court's new Eighth Amendment jurisprudence.  The piece is headlined "Locking up kids for life?  A new court decision takes a step toward juvenile justice reform," and here are excerpts:

Three decades ago, Edward Palmariello, 17, and his 21-year-old friend Bruce Chambers were arrested in the murder of Edward’s mother, Marion.  Then a defense attorney, I represented Edward at trial. The jury found both men guilty and the sentence was mandatory  —  life in prison without any possibility of parole....

The Commonwealth’s story in court was simple: Edward and his mother fought all the time. He had said things to her like “Shut up or I’m going to cut you up and put you into the toilet bowl,” and he once waved an open switchblade at her....

There was another narrative about Edward and his mother, one the jury never heard. The mother had abused Edward’s sisters and brother.  The abuses were reflected in Department of Social Services records. In fact, each one had moved out  —  “escaped,” as one sister put it — as soon as he or she could.  Edward, the youngest, had no place to go. His mother abused him physically, but when he grew stronger than she was, her abuse became psychological.  Still, as a defense lawyer, I was reluctant to offer the complete DSS records (even if they were admissible).  While they explained the family’s dysfunction, there was a risk that a prosecutor, bent on conviction, would spin them as a motive for murder.

With the first-degree murder conviction, there would be no opportunity for testimony from the social workers who knew the family or even the family members themselves who had “escaped.”  Only one sentence was possible: life without parole. On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Edward’s conviction (one judge dissented).  All other appeals failed.

In most countries, Edward’s sentence would have been impossible.  Juvenile life without parole is prohibited by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a measure that has been ratified by every UN nation except the United States and Somalia (Somalia announced in November that it will ratify).  Edward has spent the past 32 years in jail.  He had no hope, no future.  Perhaps, until now.

In 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, the US Supreme Court held that a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole on any offender under 18 is contrary to the constitutional prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments.”  While the decision’s implications were momentous, it focused only on the mandatory nature of the punishment.

But on December 24, 2013, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts went further.  In Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, the court held that the state constitution barred the imposition of life without parole altogether for defendants under age 18 at the time they committed murder....

In language that resonates for Edward, the US Supreme Court criticized sentencing that “prevents taking into account the family and the home environment that surrounds [the offender] — from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional. It neglects the circumstances of the homicide offense, including the extent of his participation in the conduct and the way familial and peer pressures may have affected him.” It “disregards the possibility of rehabilitation even when the circumstances most suggest it.”

Edwards’s case, along with some 60 others, will now go before the Massachusetts Parole Board. Will this be a real review or just a Kabuki ritual? Governor Deval Patrick dismissed five of the seven board members after a parolee killed a Woburn police officer in 2010. Parole rates have dropped dramatically. Perhaps that was why three SJC justices wrote a special commentary urging a “real meaningful opportunity to obtain release” for the juveniles affected by the decision. Parole Board, take heed.

At the very least, for Edward Palmariello, the board will finally hear the whole story.

Meanwhile, as this new front-page New York Times article highlights, the stories of hope for juve LWOPers in Massachusetts may be more of an exception than the rule in the wake of Miller.  That article, which is headlined "Juveniles Facing Lifelong Terms Despite Rulings" spotlights that "most states have taken half measures, at best, to carry out the rulings [in Graham and Miller], which could affect more than 2,000 current inmates and countless more in years to come, according to many youth advocates and legal experts."

January 20, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Saturday, January 04, 2014

"Juvenile Lifers and Judicial Overreach: A Curmudgeonly Meditation on Miller v. Alabama"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now available on SSRN and authored by Frank O. Bowman III.  Here is the abstract:

This Article considers with a skeptical eye the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), finding unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause all laws subjecting murderers who killed before their eighteenth birthdays to a sentence of mandatory life without parole (“LWOP”).

Miller and Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010), in which the Court voided statutes imposing life without parole on juveniles who committed non-homicide crimes, are striking for several reasons. First, they impact juvenile justice because the Court has continued down the path it took in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), when it ruled the death penalty cruel and unusual for juveniles, regardless of the crimes they committed, and declared categorically that the relative immaturity of juveniles made them less culpable for crime and thus both ineligible for certain very harsh punishments and subject to different procedures than adults for others. Second, the Court’s reasoning in Miller and Graham has potentially far-reaching implications for the sentencing of adults. These opinions extend to non-capital crimes the unique body of Eighth Amendment law the Court had hitherto restricted to death penalty cases. And the language of Justice Elena Kagan’s majority opinion in Miller casts at least some doubt on the power of legislatures to impose any mandatory sentence, whether of death or a term of imprisonment.

This Article contends that, while the results of Miller and Graham are gratifying as sentencing policy, the opinions announcing those results are troubling as a constitutional matter because they are badly theorized and because they are two strands of a web of decisions in which the Court has consistently used doubtful constitutional interpretations to transfer power over criminal justice policy from the legislatures – state and federal – to the courts.

January 4, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 02, 2014

A victim's perspective from Iowa on the aftermath of Graham and Miller

This notable local article from Iowa, headlined "As juvenile re-sentencing looms, murder victim's family speaks out," provides a useful reminder of the folks other than juvenile offenders who are very concerned with how the Supreme Court's rulings in Graham and Miller are going to be implemented in the states. Here are excerpts:

34 Iowa criminals currently sit in prison cells who, once sentenced to life in prison as juveniles, can file for the possibility of parole.  In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled sending a juvenile to life in prison without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional. Gov. Branstad then commuted those life sentences to 60 years in prison.  2012, however, brought the Iowa Supreme Court to rule 60 years as still unconstitutional.

“Because of the nature of the crimes that these individuals have committed, it has a very serious impact on the criminal justice system,” said Black Hawk County Attorney Tom Ferguson.

The ripple effect of these two court rulings extends past those just sitting in prison cells. Karen Salisbury was murdered in her Evansdale home in 1998.  17-year-old Matthew Payne was charged with the killing; a first-degree murder charge that, back then, sent him to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Salisbury’s three daughters — Rhonda Hoffman, Marsha DeWiese and Vicky Bolin — said they wrestled with those 1998 images of their mother’s death for years.  Now — they must relive the nightmare.  Payne, along with the other 33 Iowa criminals, can file to correct a now illegal sentence, hoping for parole.  “I don't ever want to have to go into the grocery store or somewhere and run into him,” Hoffman said.

Attorneys said parole, however, is not guaranteed.  A judge could grant the possibility of parole, or not at all.  Nevertheless, these parole hearings are annual; potentially bringing families back to the court room year after year.  “Every year if that comes up every year I will be there and I will make sure they hear my voice and they don't let him out,” Bolin said.

The daughters said the possibility of parole for Payne is extremely concerning for them; a thought that is nearly unbearable.  “What good are they in this society when they've been in prison for so long and know nothing else,” DeWiese said.

Hoffman said if Payne is ever granted parole, she hopes she never has to see him. “Don’t come back to Waterloo, I’d go somewhere else.”

January 2, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Extending Graham and Miller, Massachusetts SJC bars LWOP for all juve offenders

Mass sjcThanks to this Christmas night post at How Appealing, I just discovered that on Christmas eve the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts issued two big related rulings (available here and here) which not only held that the Supreme Court's Miller ruling is to be applied retroactively but also that "all life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders, whether mandatory or discretionary, violate art. 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights."  Because I am on the road today, I will not have the chance to consume this significant rulings fully, but I can here link to and quote from this lengthy report on the rulings from the Boston Globe:

The state’s highest court struck down life sentences without parole for juveniles on Tuesday, saying scientific research shows that lifelong imprisonment for youths is cruel and unusual because their brains are “not fully developed.”

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision is retroactive, meaning that, as one example, John Odgren, the suburban special needs student who stabbed 15-year-old James F. Alenson in the bathroom at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School on Jan. 19, 2007, and received a mandatory life sentence, now could have a chance of parole one day.

“We are very hopeful that the parole board is going to examine these kids’ lives carefully and will be giving them a real meaningful opportunity for release,” said Patty Garin, Odgren’s attorney. But some district attorneys said they were concerned about the ruling and would argue against parole in some cases.

The decision is a marked reversal for Massachusetts, where juveniles found guilty of murder have faced some of the harshest laws in the nation. The decision also is notable for its reliance on the growing field of research into the juvenile brain.

“Simply put, because the brain of a juvenile is not fully developed, either structurally or functionally, by the age of eighteen, a judge cannot find with confidence that a particular offender, at that point in time, is irretrievably depraved,” the court wrote. “Therefore, it follows that the judge cannot ascertain, with any reasonable degree of certainty, whether imposition of this most severe punishment is warranted.”...

The ruling goes farther than the Supreme Court decision in 2012 that struck down automatic sentences of life without parole for juveniles.... Because the Massachusetts high court’s decision is retroactive, prisoners sentenced as juveniles will “at the appropriate time” be afforded a parole hearing.

Lawyers said such inmates will have to have served at least 15 years before being considered for parole. There are currently 63 inmates in Massachusetts who were sentenced when they were juveniles to life sentences without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder....

The decision drew immediate praise from Governor Deval Patrick, who in September signed legislation that raises the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 and has pushed to reduce the number of teenagers sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. “I applaud today’s Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling,” the governor said in a statement. “Young people, even ones who commit terrible crimes, are developmentally and now constitutionally different from adults. Our SJC has wisely held that, while violent felons will be held accountable, youthful ones deserve every opportunity for rehabilitation.”

Some district attorneys questioned the decision. Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett said the ruling will strip away the closure that victims’ families believed they had gained. “I am concerned for families who thought they had finality about their loved ones being murdered,” said Blodgett, who is president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association. “Now they have to go through these parole hearings.”

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said in a statement, “We are mindful of the literature on young adults’ brain development, and we already exercise great discretion in charging juveniles with murder. But we’re also keenly aware of the cases at issue here. Some fact patterns demand life imprisonment. Some defendants do not deserve parole. We will argue — as often and as forcefully as necessary — against parole in those cases.”

For years, Massachusetts has had some of the most punitive penalties in the country for juvenile offenders convicted of murder. Two decades ago a series of brutal murders galvanized public demands for harsher penalties. In 1996, legislators responded with a law that mandated that juveniles 14 years and older charged with murder be tried as adults.

Because Massachusetts’ penalties for first-degree murder is mandatory life without parole juveniles found guilty of that crime faced a lifetime of incarceration. As a result, Massachusetts became a leader in the number of youths facing life sentences without parole.

As of last year, the majority of youth with such sentences were concentrated in Massachusetts and four other states: California, Louisiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “People thought if we have an extreme response, kids would stop doing bad things, and that has not turned out to be true,” said Naoka Carey, executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, a nonprofit based in Massachusetts.

Carey said the SJC ruling brings Massachusetts back to the middle — she noted that other states that have abolished life without parole for juveniles include Wyoming, Colorado, and Texas. “We’re in some conservative company,” she said.

State legislative leaders said they plan to move quickly to overhaul juvenile sentencing laws that might conflict with Tuesday’s ruling. “The legislation currently pending that require the eradication of such sentences will be fast-tracked to ensure constitutional compliance with the ruling of the SJC,” said Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty, a Chelsea Democrat who is the House chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Carey said there are currently a number of legislative options, but that any law will have to give meaningful opportunity for parole.

The SJC’s ruling came in the case of Gregory Diatchenko, who was 17 in 1981 when he murdered a man in a car in Kenmore Square. He has been in prison for more than three decades. The court ruled that he was eligible to be considered for parole immediately....

“I’m happy that Gregory Diatchenko is going to have a meaningful opportunity for release, which he deserves. He’s a living embodiment of what the [Supreme Court] case was all about. He does not deserve to die in prison. He’s not who he was when he was 17,” said Benjamin Keehn, Diatchenko’s attorney. Keehn was on his way to see his client at MCI Norfolk on Tuesday to relay the news. He said his client is 49 years old, two credits shy of a bachelors degree, and has been a Buddhist for over 10 years.

The court also ruled in the separate case of Marquise Brown, who was convicted of first-degree murder in a 2009 slaying. He has not been sentenced. The court ruled that because Brown was 17 at the time of his crime, he cannot be sentenced to life without parole.

The Diatchenko ruling was unanimous. In a concurring opinion, Justices Ralph Gants, Barbara Lenk, and Fernande R.V. Duffly, emphasized that defendants need to have a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” They urged that decisions on parole be informed by an attention to the “distinctive attributes of youth.

December 26, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack