Monday, December 02, 2013
What sentencing issues should SCOTUS be taking up to fill out its docket?
I have noted (and been disappointed by) the relative paucity of major sentencing cases on the Supreme Court docket this Term. But, as highlighted by this new Washington Post article, headlined "Supreme Court busy looking for cases — but finding fewer than usual," SCOTUS is now facing a relative paucity of all cases on its docket.
That all said, this recent Politico article, headlined "Digital era confounds the courts," spotlights that a number of cases concerning the intersection of the Fourth Amendment and new technology likely to be on the SCOTUS docket soon:
[T]he nation’s top court is set to consider whether to take up three key related cases ... [with] big tech issues that could finally get decided:...
Lower courts have been split on the authority of police to search your technology [incident to an arrest]. Currently, court rulings have required warrants to search a cellphone in six states, while they are not required in 20 other states, according to a map put together by Forbes and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.....
In the age of encryption and passwords, law enforcement officials can obtain a warrant for a hard drive, but they may not be able to access the material on it. So can police compel someone to provide a password or to unlock an account or decrypt a file? Courts have in some cases ruled that individuals can refuse to provide a password under their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves....
Another nettlesome issue brought up in part by the ubiquity of cellphones and smartphones is the ability of police to track a person’s movements. While the Supreme Court ruled last year that police cannot affix a GPS tracking device to a car without a warrant, it decided U.S. v. Jones based on a question of trespassing, which doesn’t apply when police get location information from a suspect’s devices or service provider.
The courts are also split on this issue. In July alone, two courts made opposite rulings: The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas found that law enforcement may get cell location data from service providers without a warrant. In a New Jersey case, a very different result -- the state supreme court held that the state’s constitution requires a warrant.
Like all criminal procedure issues, these constitutional search question are sure to have eventual sentencing echoes. But, of course, hard-core sentencing issues are the ones that really get me excited, and I think there are plenty the Justices should be taking up to fill out their docket.
Some of the most obvious sentencing issues seemingly ready for SCOTUS review are follow-ups to its recent Eighth Amendment work in Graham and Miller. Lower courts are deeply split over the retroactivity of Miller and also concerning what kinds of crimes and sentences fit within the categorical ban of juve LWOP sentences for nonhomicide offenses announced in Graham.
In addition, plenty of federal sentencing issues in the post-Booker world are still roiling district and circuit courts. I personally would like to see the Justices throw some more dirt on the worst guidelines by taking up, and then reversing as unreasonable, a poorly-justified, within-guideline sentence based on guidelines widely recognized to be badly broken (e.g., the crack or CP or fraud guidelines). But I doubt many Justices are eager to spend their spring further fighting with Justice Breyer over the mysteries of his Booker remedy.
I could go on issue spotting here for the Justices, but I am really eager to hear from informed readers about the question in the title of this post. What issues do folks working day-to-day in the sentencing vineyards believe the Supreme Court should take up ASAP?
December 2, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Years after Graham and Miller, Florida still working on its legislative response
As reported in this local article, Florida is continuing to struggle with how it wants to respond legislatively to the Supreme Court's determination that the state cannot be so quick to give so many juvenile offenders life without parole. Here are the details:
After a stinging defeat last year on the floor of the Senate, Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, has again filed legislation to align Florida’s juvenile-sentencing laws with recent United States Supreme Court rulings.
In 2010, the Supreme Court said it’s unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life in prison without the possibility of parole, though it allowed exceptions for juveniles convicted of murder. Ever since, lawmakers have failed to pass legislation changing Florida’s juvenile sentencing laws to comply with those opinions. There are 265 inmates in custody of the Department of Corrections that were given life sentences as juveniles.
Additionally, without a tweak to state law, courts across the state have been left to interpret the Supreme Court’s decisions differently. “We owe it to our courts to provide guidance,” Bradley said. “It’s the Legislature’s job.”
During the 2013 legislative session, Bradley, a private attorney, ushered a proposed legislative fix through three committee stops, but halted his own bill on the Senate floor after opponents tacked on an amendment he opposed. Bradley’s bill would have required a judge to consider factors like background and ability for rehabilitation during a mandatory hearing before sentencing a juvenile convicted of murder to life in prison.... Bradley’s bill also capped at 50 years the sentence a judge could give a juvenile who did not commit murder.
The amendment, offered by state Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, would have allowed a parole hearing every 25 years for juveniles given life sentences for non-fatal crimes and for those who committed murder. “Why not give that judge the ability to review a case after 25 years?” Garcia asked during April floor debate.
This year, Bradley’s legislation offers parole hearings after 25 years for juveniles convicted of non-fatal crimes, and caps sentences for those offenders at 35 years. It does not offer hearings for juveniles convicted of homicide. “The bill I filed still does not offer hearings to murderers,” Bradley said.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
"Reducing Incarceration for Youthful Offenders with a Developmental Approach to Sentencing"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Samantha Buckingham now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Current sentencing practices have proven to be an ineffective method of rehabilitating criminal defendants. Such practices are unresponsive to developmental science breakthroughs, fail to promote rehabilitation, and drain society’s limited resources. These deficiencies are most acute when dealing with youthful offenders. Incarcerating youthful offenders, who are amenable to rehabilitative efforts, under current sentencing practices only serves to ensure such individuals will never become productive members of society.
Drawing on the author’s experiences as a public defender, studies in developmental psychology and neuroscience, and the Supreme Court’s recent line of cases that acknowledge youthful offenders’ biological differences from adult offenders, the author proposes a restorative-justice approach to replace current sentencing practices. This solution includes tailoring a youthful offender’s sentence to his or her developmental level and offering a community-based mediation between victims and offenders.
The proposal counteracts a major deficiency of current sentencing practices — the failure to offer youthful offenders an opportunity to truly understand their crimes. Only by providing an opportunity to learn from an offense will a youthful offender be in a position to rehabilitate. This Article responds to possible critiques of the proposal, including concerns about the ability to accurately measure the success of a restorative-justice sentencing model, the fear of implicating the offender’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and the cost of implementing mediation-based efforts. Ultimately, this Article determines that a developmentally appropriate, community-based sentencing scheme — with restorative justice overtones — best addresses the unique situation youthful offenders find themselves in. A sentence for a youthful offender should — indeed, must — present meaningful opportunities for the youthful offender to rehabilitate, and age-appropriate sentences grounded in restorative-justice principles will do this effectively.
November 27, 2013 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 (7) | TrackBack
Thursday, November 14, 2013
"Misconstruing Graham & Miller"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece by Cara Drinan now up at SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In the last three years the Supreme Court has decreed a sea change in its juvenile Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. In particular, in its Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama rulings, the Court struck down a majority of the states’ juvenile sentencing laws, outlawing life without parole for juveniles who commit non-homicide offenses and mandating individualized sentencing for those children who commit even the most serious crimes. An examination of state laws and sentencing practices, however, suggests that the Graham and Miller rulings have fallen on deaf ears. After briefly describing what these two decisions required of the states, in this Essay, I outline the many ways in which state actors have failed to comply with the Court’s mandate. Finally, I map out a path for future compliance that relies heavily upon the strength and agility of the executive branch.
November 14, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Clemency and Pardons, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Can and should brain science research become a regular (and regulated) part of sentencing decision-making?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new NPR segment (misleadingly?) headlined "The Case Against Brain Scans As Evidence In Court." Here are excerpts from the piece:
It's not just people who go on trial these days. It's their brains.
More and more lawyers are arguing that some defendants deserve special consideration because they have brains that are immature or impaired, says Nita Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy at Duke University who has been studying the use of brain science in court.
About 5 percent of murder trials now involve some neuroscience, Farahany says. "There's a steady increase of defendants seeking to introduce neuroscience to try to reduce the extent to which they're responsible or the extent to which they're punished for a crime," she says.
Farahany was a featured speaker at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego this week. Also featured were several brain scientists who are uncomfortable with the way courts are using brain research....
The approach has been most successful with cases involving teenagers, Farahany says. "It seems like judges are particularly enamored with the adolescent brain science," she says. "Large pieces of their opinions are dedicated to citing the neuroscientific studies, talking about brain development, and using that as a justification for treating juveniles differently."...
So judges and juries are being swayed by studies showing that adolescent brains don't function the same way adult brains do. One study like that was presented at the neuroscience meeting by Kristina Caudle, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, used a technology called functional MRI to look at how the brains of people from 6 to 29 reacted to a threat.
"The typical response — and what you might think is a logical response — is to become less impulsive, to sort of withdraw, to not act when there is threat in the environment," Caudle says. "But what we saw was that adolescents uniquely seemed to be more likely to act. So their performance on this task became more impulsive." And Caudle found that in adolescents, an area of the brain involved in regulating emotional responses had to work much harder to prevent an impulsive response. This sort of study is great for understanding adolescent brain development in a general way, Caudle says.
"What it doesn't do is allow us to predict, for example, whether one particular teenager might be likely to be impulsive or to commit criminal behavior," she says. And Caudle worries that a study like hers could be used inappropriately in court. "Jurors tend to really take things like MRI scans as fact, and that gives me great pause," she says.
When it comes to nature versus nurture, brain scientists think both matter. A lot of the neuroscience presented in court is simply unnecessary, says Joshua Buckholtz, a psychologist at Harvard. "Anyone who's every had a teenager would be able to tell you that their decision-making capacities are not comparable to adults," he says.
And relying on brain science to defend juveniles could have unexpected consequences, Buckholtz says. For example, he says, if a prosecutor used an MRI scan to show that a 16-year-old who committed a capital crime had a very mature brain, "Would we then insist that we execute that juvenile?"
The task of integrating brain science into the judicial system will in large part be the responsibility of judges, Buckholtz says. And how it works will depend on how well judges understand "what a scientific study is and what it says and what it doesn't say and can't say," he says.
I do not see anything in this piece which suggests that brain scans amount to "junk science," and thus I do not fully understand why NPR thinks this segment reveals a "case against" against brain science as evidence in legal proceedings.
Of course, I fully understand concerns expressed by scientists about the potential misuse or misunderstanding of their nuanced brain scan research. But juries and judges are drawn to scientific research largely because the decision-making alternative is to rely more on gut feelings, emotions, instincts or biases. Unless brain scans provide a worse foundation for making judgments than gut feelings, emotions, instincts or biases, it seems to me they ought to have a role in legal decision-making.
As the question in the title of this post suggests, I think the really tough questions here are not whether brain science is worthy of consideration, but rather when and how brain science should be considered by judges and juries. Indeed, the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment rulings in Roper and Graham and Miller have already given brain science research some constitutional import, and thus I hope both scientists and law professors will now turn their attention to debating how the legal system might most fairly and effectively operationalize what the brain research is telling us about the scientific realities of human behaviors and personal development.
November 12, 2013 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 (16) | TrackBack
Thursday, November 07, 2013
State judge in Pennsylvania finds lifetime sex offender registration for juve offenders unconstitutional
As reported in this local article, "a York County judge has ruled unconstitutional a two-year-old Pennsylvania law that imposes lifetime registration requirements on juvenile sex offenders." Here is more:
Senior Judge John C. Uhler issued his ruling against the juvenile registration provisions of the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act while weighing the cases of seven county teens adjudicated as having committed serious sex crimes.
Uhler found that the registration mandate "unconstitutionally forecloses a court's considerations of the many unique attributes of youth and juvenile offenders" under age 18 and improperly treats them the same as adult sex offenders. SORNA, as the act is known, also doesn't take into account the greater capacity juvenile offenders have to reform, he noted.
The state law was passed by the Legislature in late 2011 to comply with a federal law, the Adam Walsh Act. The state faced a loss of federal funding if it didn't adopt a measure compatible with the Walsh Act.
Uhler's ruling is in reply to a challenge mounted on behalf of the seven York County youths by the county public defender's office, the Juvenile Law Center and the Defender Association of Philadelphia. The children involved were subject to registration after being found to have committed crimes including rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault. They were ages 14 to 17 when the offenses occurred.
In a statement issued Thursday, officials of the Juvenile Law Center and the defender association called Uhler's decision a "landmark ruling."
"It is our hope that this decision will result in similar findings across the commonwealth," said Riya Saha Shah, a staff attorney with the law center. "To impose this (registration) punishment on children is to set them up for failure."
County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tim Barker said his office is reviewing Uhler's decision for a possible appeal to the state Supreme Court. A decision is expected next week, he said. "We're thoroughly going through everything," Barker said.
Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association, predicted an appeal is likely. Prosecutors are well aware of arguments for and against the juvenile sex offender registration requirement, he said. "I'm not surprised that the judge would rule this way," Freed said. "We'll see what happens in the appeals courts."
November 7, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Monday, October 14, 2013
Florida legislature told to "End confusion on juvenile sentencing"The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this effective recent editorial from the Tampa Bay Times, which makes these points about the post-Miller mess in Florida:
By reinstating the original sentence of life in prison without parole for Nicholas Lindsey on Friday, a Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court judge entered muddy legal waters. Lindsey and other juveniles convicted of murder continue to be sentenced under a state statute that is now unconstitutional as applied to them. There is no clear road map for judges, because the Florida Legislature has failed to bring state law into conformance with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Lindsey's reconsidered sentence for shooting and killing a St. Petersburg police officer will likely be challenged, wasting resources and prolonging the pain for the victim's family. Had the Legislature acted responsibly, the courts would not be operating in the dark and creating law as they go.
State courts are puzzling through what to do with juveniles who were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced under state law that provides for a death sentence or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Minors cannot be sentenced to death because of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Last year, the court ruled that a life sentence without parole cannot be mandatory for juvenile offenders — people who committed their crime before reaching 18 years old. The court said that in light of a young person's lack of maturity and capacity to change as he grows up, courts must be permitted to take these circumstances into account in sentencing. Florida law gives judges no discretion to impose a lesser sentence....
Other circuit court judges have ruled inconsistently. A judge in Hillsborough County recently resentenced Amer Ejak, now 20 years old, to life without parole for clubbing and strangling a man in 2009 — the same sentence Ejak originally received. But compare that to a teen murderer in Pasco County who was sentenced last month to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years, even though state law makes no provision for it. An August ruling by the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach said that the only legal sentence for juveniles guilty of capital murder is life with the possibility of parole after 25 years, but that decision is only controlling precedent for part of the state.
The Florida Legislature surely knew that by not rewriting state law to reflect the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and giving judges the opportunity to impose lesser sentences it would cause confusion and result in disparate treatment of juvenile offenders across the state. Lawmakers shifted their responsibility to the courts. The Florida Supreme Court will have to bring clarity to the law. In the meantime, trial courts faced with resentencing some of Florida's more than 200 inmates who were convicted and sentenced on murder charges should follow the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling as best they can.
October 14, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Monday, September 30, 2013
Detailing Florida's continuing struggle to deal with Graham and MillerThis lengthy and interesting local article, headlined "Lawmakers committed to solving juvenile sentencing," highlights how legislators in the Sunshine State have been struggling to fix its sentencing laws in the wake of two Supreme Court rulings concerning limits on LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders. Here are excerpts:
With the courts threatening to intercede, Florida lawmakers say they are committed to finding a solution to sentencing juveniles under U.S. Supreme Court rulings that restrict the use of life sentences. The issue is likely to be a focal point of debate in next year’s legislative session and could affect two local cases.
But lawmakers have failed to find an agreement for the last three years, leaving Florida Supreme Court justices to suggest earlier this month that they could impose a parole system to review lengthy sentences for juveniles in light of the Legislature’s inaction....
Heading toward their 2014 session, lawmakers must address two groups of juvenile offenders. One group is juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes — for which the U.S. Supreme Court banned life sentences in 2010. The other group is juveniles convicted of murder, who can be sentenced to life but their punishment must follow protocols outlined by the nation’s highest court in a 2012 ruling.
In the 2013 session, the sentencing legislation failed when [Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, a former state prosecutor] advanced a bill capping sentences at 50 years for non-homicide juvenile crimes and establishing a sentencing procedure for juvenile murderers, who would face a minimum 50-year sentence if they were not sentenced to life. But senators, who believed the bill was still too harsh, amended the bill in 20-19 vote, calling for a sentence review at 25 years for the juvenile offenders. In response, Bradley killed the legislation.
He and other lawmakers say they understand the frustration of the state’s highest court — where two cases are pending involving juveniles who received 70- and 90-year sentences for non-homicide crimes — but they said they hope to resolve the issue without putting the burden on the court....
Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, who sponsored the House version of the sentencing bill, said he understood why the courts are not happy with the lack of legislative action. “They’re pushing us to do something,” Pilon said. “I think it was kind of travesty that we couldn’t come to a compromise last year. I’m certainly hopeful that we do this year. It’s our responsibility.”
There has been tension between the Legislature and the court in recent years, with some legislative leaders suggesting the justices have intruded into the legislative arena. But some lawmakers say the failure to act on the juvenile sentencing would leave the court little choice. “If we’re lawmakers we need to make the law,” said Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, a member of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, which would initiate the juvenile sentencing legislation. “We talk a lot about judges acting outside their authority. But it’s hard to blame them when we don’t write the laws.”...
Lawyers for an Orlando juvenile facing a 90-year sentence have suggested the state Supreme Court re-impose a parole system — which was abolished for non-capital crimes in 1983 and for all crimes in 1995 — to review lengthy juvenile sentences. In their questioning during oral arguments on the case, several justices talked about using the Parole Commission, which still exists to handle prisoners sentenced before parole was abolished.
But reviving the parole system would likely meet resistance from lawmakers. “Parole has become a dirty word in Florida,” said House Criminal Justice Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. “I don’t know that there is enough momentum to sort of change that cultural shift that has occurred in our state.”
Nonetheless, lawmakers generally agree that they may have to come up with some review process for the non-homicide juveniles since the U.S. Supreme Court has said they must be given “some realistic opportunity to obtain release” before the end of their prison term. “We can call it whatever you want but we have to have that ability to go back and look,” Kerner said.
While acknowledging a review process for the non-homicide juveniles is necessary, Bradley said he would strongly resist any type of review for the juveniles convicted of murder. He said that would impose an emotional burden on the families of the crime victims, calling it unfair “to bring them back for a hearing and to go relive the crime over and over again.”
Under Bradley’s previous legislation, juveniles could be sentenced to a life sentences for murder if the judge weighed some 10 factors in the sentencing, including the offender’s level of maturity and the nature of the crime. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling has called for “individualized sentencing decisions” for juveniles based on the argument that they were different from adult offenders.
September 30, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Sunday, September 29, 2013
"Life Without Parole as a Conflicted Punishment"The title of this post is the title of this lengthy and notable new article available now via SSRN and authored by Craig Lerner. Here is the abstract:
Life without parole (LWOP) has displaced the death penalty as the distinctive American punishment. Although the sentence scarcely exists in Europe, roughly 40,000 inmates are serving LWOP in America today. Despite its prevalence, the sentence has received little academic scrutiny. This has begun to change, a development sparked by a pair of Supreme Court cases, Graham v. Florida (2010) and Miller v. Alabama (2012), which express European-styled reservations with America’s embrace of LWOP. Both opinions, like the nascent academic commentary, lament the irrevocability of the sentence and the expressive judgment purportedly conveyed -- that a human being is so incorrigible that the community brands him with the mark of Cain and banishes him forever from our midst. In the tamer language of the Graham opinion, LWOP “forswears altogether the rehabilitative ideal.”
This Article tests whether that phrase is a fair characterization of LWOP today, and concludes that the Graham Court’s treatment of LWOP captures only a partial truth. Life without parole, the Article argues, is a conflicted punishment. The community indulges its thirst for revenge when imposing the sentence, but over time softer impulses insinuate themselves. LWOP is in part intended as a punishment of incalculable cruelty, more horrible than a prison term of many years, and on par with or worse than death itself. In practice, however, LWOP also emerges as a softer punishment, accommodating a concern for the inmate’s humanity and a hope for his rehabilitation.
September 29, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Linda Greenhouse reflects on changing crime culture changing SCOTUS jurisprudenceLinda Greenhouse's new commentary piece at the New York Times "Opinionator" blog is focused on crime and punishment issues. The lengthy piece, headlined "Winds of Change," is worth a full read and here are excerpts:
Back in 1991, the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan man’s prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole for possessing more than 1.5 pounds of cocaine. The sentence did not represent the third strike of a three-strikes law: the prisoner, Ronald A. Harmelin, 45, had no previous criminal record. The police found the drugs when they stopped him for running a red light. Since simple possession was enough to trigger Michigan’s mandatory life-without-parole sentence, the prosecution didn’t even have to bother trying to prove that Mr. Harmelin intended to sell the cocaine.
In upholding the sentence, the court rejected the argument that it was so disproportionate to the crime as to violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The three justices who then occupied the middle of the court (yes, there was a multi-justice middle back then) — Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor and David H. Souter — voted with the 5-to-4 majority.
In “Five Chiefs,” the very interesting (and underappreciated) Supreme Court memoir he published in retirement, Justice John Paul Stevens reflected on the Harmelin decision, from which he dissented. Those three justices were all relatively new to the court at the time, he wrote. The justices they had replaced — Lewis F. Powell Jr., Potter Stewart and William J. Brennan Jr. — were all long-serving veterans who Justice Stevens speculated would have voted to invalidate the sentence. It may be, he added, that “the views of individual justices become more civilized after 20 years of service on the court.”
That was an intriguing thought, and when I had a chance last year to interview Justice Stevens, I asked him to say more. He said he still thought about the case “a lot.” He was “quite sure” that Justice Kennedy would come to the opposite conclusion today, and that the other two probably would as well if they were still on the court. Nonetheless, he added, “the precedent is still there, and it’s really a very unfortunate case.”
I’ve been thinking a lot myself about the Harmelin decision in light of recent events. First there was the announcement last month by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that the Justice Department was revising its prosecution strategy in order to avoid the impact of mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses. That was followed by the announcement that the federal government wouldn’t sue to block state laws that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. Either policy shift would have been greeted with amazement not too many years ago, but neither provoked anything approaching a fuss....
Something is clearly in the wind. I’ve also been thinking about the New York City mayoral primary. It’s impossible to read the election outcome as other than, at least in part, a public repudiation of the Bloomberg administration’s law-enforcement policies, particularly the administration’s embrace of stop-and-frisk. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg not only denounced Federal District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s ruling last month that stop-and-frisk as the police were using it was unconstitutional, but he also attacked the judge herself as an “ideologically driven” judicial activist.
Unlike the days when politicians could score easy points by attacking courts as soft on crime, however, the mayor got no traction. Bill de Blasio, the Democratic primary winner, ran as the non-Bloomberg, making opposition to stop-and-frisk a centerpiece of his campaign. An exit poll indicated that black New Yorkers and white New Yorkers were equally supportive of Mr. de Blasio, who also received nearly identical support across the income spectrum — a fascinating development. People so often separated by race and class, seemed to unite around the conclusion that enough was enough.
The question is what this shift in public attitudes might mean for the courts, the Supreme Court in particular. The Supreme Court operates inside the mainstream culture — which is, after all, where the justices live — influenced not by the “weather of the day” but by the “climate of the age,” as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg likes to say, quoting the great constitutional scholar Paul Freund....
In his reflection on the Harmelin decision, Justice Stevens offered the tantalizing idea that longevity on the bench makes justices “more civilized.” Can that prediction apply not only to individual members of the court, but also to the court as a whole? As the Roberts court begins year nine, that may be a distant hope, but one worth clinging to.
The recent SCOTUS Eighth Amendment rulings in Graham and Miller reflect, in my view, the impact of these "winds of change." But it remains to see whether and when these winds will blow hard enough to knock over the problematic precedent set by the Harmelin decision 22 years ago.
September 19, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Florida Supreme Court considers important issues concerning Graham's meaning and reachAs reported in this local piece, headlined "Supreme Court hears juvenile sentencing arguments," the top court in Florida heard oral argument on a very important issues concerning the reach of the Supreme Court's recent Eighth Amendment jurisprudence concerning juvenile sentencing. Here are the details:
In the wake of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upended sentencing guidelines for juveniles, the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in a case involving Shimeeka Gridine, who was sentenced to 70 years in prison for crimes committed when he was 14 years old.
The case is one of several that have surfaced in Florida courts since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life sentences without parole for juveniles in non-homicide cases violate the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment.
Gridine, now 18, pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder, attempted armed robbery and aggravated battery after he shot a man in 2009 while trying to rob a Jacksonville gas station. He was sentenced to 70 years for the attempted murder and 25 years for the armed robbery, with the sentences to run concurrently.
Assistant Public Defender Gail Anderson argued Tuesday that amounts to a life sentence. A mandatory minimum sentencing requirement makes Gridine ineligible for gain time for good behavior on the 25-year sentence. And under Florida’s “truth-in-sentencing” law requiring offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their prison sentences, he must then serve at least 85 percent of the remaining 45 years of the 70-year sentence. “Assuming he got all the gain time he was eligible for on the remainder of the sentence, he would be 77 years old before he was released,” Anderson said. “And I think that, under any reasonable construction, is a life sentence.”...
But Assistant Attorney General Kellie Nielan said the Graham ruling provided no time limits. “(The) Graham (decision) has said that someone needs review sometime within their life,” she told the court. “They need an opportunity for release within their life. It doesn’t say when.”
“Aren’t we condemning him from the outset?” asked Justice James E.C. Perry. “I thought he had to have a meaningful review at the outset.”
“No, Graham does not require that,” Nielan replied. “And Graham only applies to the life sentences — or, if you want to extend that to de facto life sentences, which are going to be sentences of at least 50 years. So a juvenile who is sentenced to 40 years is not entitled to any review.”
Justice Charles Canady said that was hypothetical. “We’ve got cases here where it seems like by just about any reasonable understanding of what a life sentence is, this case falls into the equivalent of a life sentence,” he said.
In Gridine’s 2009 trial, Judge Adrian G. Soud of the 4th Judicial Circuit in Duval County ruled that the teen was not protected by the Graham decision “because he had a clear and premeditated intent to kill. … Just because this juvenile defendant failed in his criminal and deadly endeavor does not preclude this court from sentencing the defendant commensurate with the defendant’s intent — the same intent possessed by a juvenile murderer.”
After the hearing, Anderson said she was hoping the justices would find unconstitutional the 85-percent law that abolished parole as it applies to Gridine and make him eligible for parole after 25 years. She said another possibility is that the high court could order that Gridine be resentenced. “That’s what the district courts have been doing — just ordering a resentencing,” she said. “But that just leaves everybody in the same limbo they’ve been in up to now.”
Since the Graham decision, the Florida Legislature has taken up bills that would have allowed life sentences for juveniles with the possibility of release after 20 years if they show signs of rehabilitation. So far, however, none has passed.
This report suggests that the Florida Supreme Court could find two ways to avoid declaring the long juvenile sentence here unconstitutional, but it also suggests that at least some of the Florida Justices may not be so eager to do so.
Monday, September 16, 2013
New York Times editorial says "End Mandatory Life Sentences"The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this new New York Times editorial, which is actually focused mostly on giving Miller v. Alabama retroactive application. Here are excerpts:
Young people are different. The Supreme Court has delivered that message repeatedly over the last decade in limiting or flatly prohibiting the most severe criminal punishments for those under 18 at the time of their crime.
In 2005, the court banned the death penalty for juveniles. In 2010, it outlawed sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide. And, in a 2012 case, Miller v. Alabama, it said juveniles may never receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole, which prisoners refer to as “the other death penalty.”...
In each case, the court was silent on the question of whether its ruling applied retroactively to inmates who had already been convicted. The just answer would surely be yes, and courts have largely agreed, making those first two juvenile justice rulings retroactive. But some states insist that the ban on mandatory life without parole does not apply to offenders who have already been sentenced.
In the Miller case, the court required lower courts to make “individualized sentencing decisions” for juvenile defendants because juveniles are not as morally culpable as adults, and they are more capable of changing over time. If the ban on mandatory life without parole is retroactive, more than 2,000 prisoners would be eligible for a new sentencing hearing. So far, whether these individuals can get a new hearing depends on where they live.
Courts in Michigan, Iowa and Mississippi have ruled that the ban applies to previously sentenced juveniles. The Department of Justice takes that position as well. Yet the Minnesota Supreme Court and one federal appeals court have taken the opposite view....
Critics fear that allowing resentencing would increase violent crime. But courts may still impose life without parole, provided that the judge first gives proper consideration to the mitigating effects of youth. The Alabama Supreme Court set out guidelines last week that require a court to consider 14 factors, including a defendant’s age, emotional maturity, family environment and potential for rehabilitation before issuing such a sentence.
Ideally, life without parole would never be a sentencing option for juveniles. The Supreme Court’s own logic suggests this, even if it was not willing to go that far. After the Miller case, three states entirely eliminated juvenile life without parole, joining six other states that had already banned the sentence, and lawsuits on the retroactivity issue are pending in several states. As lawmakers and courts deal with this issue, they should remember — as the Supreme Court has declared — that adolescents are not adults, and that principle should apply regardless of the date of a conviction.
Monday, September 02, 2013
"Against Juvenile Sex Offender Registration"The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Catherine Carpenter now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Imagine if you were held accountable the rest of your life for something you did as a child?
This is the Child Scarlet Letter in force: kids who commit criminal sexual acts and who pay the price with the burdens and stigma of sex offender registration. And in a game of “how low can you go?,” states have forced children as young as nine and ten years old onto sex offender registries, some with registration requirements that extend the rest of their lives.
No matter the constitutionality of adult sex offender registration — and on that point, there is debate — this article argues that child sex offender registration violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Once a sex offender, always a sex offender is not an apt adage when dealing with children who commit sexual offenses. Low recidivism rates and varied reasons for their misconduct demonstrate that a child’s criminal sexual act does not necessarily portend future predatory behavior. And with a net cast so wide it ensnares equally the child who rapes and the child who engages in sex with an underage partner, juvenile sex offender registration schemes are not moored to their civil regulatory intent.
Compounding the problem is mandatory lifetime registration for child offenders. This paper analogizes this practice to juvenile sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in Miller v. Alabama and Graham v. Florida. This article argues that mandatory lifetime registration applied to children in the same manner as adult offenders is cruel and unusual punishment because it violates fundamental principles that require sentencing practices to distinguish between adult and child offenders.
Scrutiny of child sex offender registration laws places front and center the issue of what it means to judge our children. And on that issue, we are failing. The public’s desire to punish children appears fixed despite our understanding that child offenders pose little danger of recidivism, possess diminished culpability, and have the capacity for rehabilitation. In a debate clouded by emotion, it is increasingly clear that juvenile sex offender registration is cruel and unusual punishment.
September 2, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack
Friday, August 16, 2013
Iowa Supreme Court rules in favor of juve defendants in three post-Graham appealsAs reported in this local article, headlined "Hundreds of juveniles could appeal felony sentences under Iowa court rulings," the Iowa Supreme COurt handed down three notable opinions today that operationalize the US Supreme Court's opinion in Graham concerning LWOP sentences for juve non-homicide offendes. Here are the basics:
Hundreds of juveniles convicted of felonies could apply to have their sentences reviewed under three decisions handed down Friday by the Iowa Supreme Court.
Iowa's high court upheld a lower court's decision to reduce the sentence of Jeffrey Ragland, now 44, to life in prison with a possibility of parole after 25 years. Ragland, when he was 17 was convicted of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole, even though he did not swing the tire iron that killed a man.
The Iowa court also ordered two other juvenile cases for resentencing that did not involve mandatory life sentences without parole: Denem Anthony Null, now 20, is serving a minimum sentence of more than 52 years for a 2010 murder and robbery. He was 16 at the time of his crimes. Desirae Monique Pearson, now 19, is serving a minimum of 35 years for robbery and burglary committed in 2010....
In today's rulings, the court said Gov. Terry Branstad overreached last year when he sought to keep 38 juveniles in prison who were convicted to life in prison without a chance of parole. The governor imposed life sentences with a chance of parole after 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a teenager convicted of murder must be sentenced differently than adults.
Friday's decisions produced sharp divisions on the high court. Justice Edward Mansifeld, in his dissent in Pearson's case, cautioned the high court's broad interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding juvenile sentencing could produce a "flurry" of court hearings. He said the 425 juvenile inmates serving time in Iowa prisons “may now have a ticket to court and a potential resentencing.”
"This would be unprecedented," said Mansfield, noting other state courts have chosen to reconsider sentences that locked up juveniles for life without parole.
The impact of the court’s decision remains to be seen. Dozens, or even hundreds of cases, spread across Iowa should not strain the court system, said Robert Rigg, a Drake University law professor. The fact that juveniles convicted of serious felonies can ask for new sentences only opens the door to a hearing, and does not guarantee anything beyond that, Rigg said. The high court has required a judge consider a variety of factors during sentencing, such as a youth's history, socioeconomic background, history of substance abuse and psychiatric evaluations, he said.
All this information is already gathered. But under mandatory sentencing laws, a judge is not allowed to consider these factors, Rigg said. "When we have mandatory minimums, you order these investigations but can't use them in sentencing," Rigg said.
Gov. Terry Branstad intends to work with the legislature to establish criminal sentences that keeps convicted juveniles in prison, said Tim Albrecht, the governor’s spokesman. The high court’s decision does not affect the governor’s authority to grant clemency, which includes commutation of life sentences, he said. “Victims must never be re-victimized and can never be forgotten from the process,” Albrecht said. “The governor and lieutenant governor look forward to working with the Iowa Legislature to find a way to keep dangerous juvenile murderers off the streets and keep Iowans safe.”
Lawmakers could find it difficult to change the state's juvenile sentencing laws if they disagree with the court's rulings, because justices used the Iowa constitution to make its case. Those who disagreed with the court's 2009 decision that legalized same sex marriage ran into similar roadblocks, said Rigg, the Drake professor, who noted this approach also means the decision can't be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
State law until last year required anyone sentenced for first-degree murder, regardless of age, to spend life in prison without parole. Other mandatory sentences also existed for serious felonies. In June 2012, though, U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama found such sentences to be cruel and unusual based on brain research showing that juveniles are less culpable for their crimes due to differences in brain development and impulse control.
Branstad's immediate response to that federal ruling was a blanket commutation order that allowed parole for teen murderers only after they had spent 60 years behind bars. That move was widely criticized by lawyers and advocates for the 38 people serving time for such murders. Several of the offenders are appealing saying that 60 years still constitutes a long period of time behind bars....
After the U.S. Supreme Court, Ragland's attorney sought parole for his client. The district court ruled that Branstad exceeded his authority and resentenced Ragland to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
The Iowa Supreme Court, in Friday's unanimous decision, upheld the lower court's ruling. The court agreed with the district court's findings that the governor's commutation still amounted to a life sentence without parole. Ragland would be 78 before he could possibly be released and near the end of his statistical life expectancy....
The court continued in its opinion: “In light of our increased understanding of the decision making of youths, the sentencing process must be tailored to account in a meaningful way for the attributes of juveniles that are distinct from adult conduct. At the core of all of this also lies the profound sense of what a person loses by beginning to serve a lifetime of incarceration as a youth.”
In a concurring opinion, Justice David Wiggins wrote that Branstad’s imposition of a sentence “might constitute a denial of due process.” In his concurring opinion Justice Bruce Zager wrote that he believed Branstad exceeded his constitutional authority when Branstad removed Ragland’s ability to earn good time credit against the commuted sentence.
Jon Kinnamon, Ragland’s attorney, said the court’s decision will open the door for his client to seek parole. He doesn’t know when Ragland’s case could be reviewed by the board, he said. He said he planned to contact Ragland and his family yet today. “I would presume that the next step would be that he would be in front of the parole board,” he said.
All three of the Iowa Supreme Court opinions are available via this webpage, and the Ragland opinion reference above is at this link. The longest opinion of the three is in Iowa v. Null, and its 83 pages can be found at this link.
August 16, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
When are very long juvenile sentences really LWOP sentences under the Eighth Amendment?The question in the title of this post, which has been lurking in lower courts for years since the Supreme Court's landmark Graham ruling in 2010, is now before the Florida Supreme Court in a set of cases. This recent South Florida Sun Sentinel article, headlined "Lengthy prison sentences for juveniles under scrutiny," discusses the issue effectively. (Hat tip: How Appealing.) Here are excerpts:
The 2007 gang rape of a mother and torture of her son by as many as 10 masked assailants at a West Palm Beach public housing complex resulted in four convictions two years later. But the horrific Dunbar Village case still continues through the Florida court system, as justices reconsider the rules on the sentencing of juveniles for serious crimes.
Jakaris Taylor, initially given a life term, and later 60 years in prison, for the attack committed when he was 15, now has a chance of winning his freedom well before a target release at age 66 through gain time. The 4th District Court of Appeal, while affirming Taylor's conviction and sentence, this month asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of such lengthy sentences for teenage defendants on non-murder raps.
But it turns out the state's highest court already plans to explore similar issues in the case of a Jacksonville man sentenced to 70 years for committing attempted murder when he was 14. The Supreme Court has scheduled Sept. 17 oral arguments in the case of Shimeeka Daquiel Gridine v. Florida.
The outcome ultimately could shorten the prison terms for numerous young felons from across the state, including Taylor, said Gerard F. Glynn, who formerly led Barry University's Juvenile Justice Center. "The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that sentencing of children is different, and long sentences that are equivalent to life require constitutional scrutiny," said Glynn, an Orlando-based attorney who has long advocated for juvenile sentence reforms. "At some point, a multiple-year sentence is a life sentence."...
The Graham ruling led to reduced sentences for dozens of Florida inmates convicted of violent crimes, including rape, kidnapping and armed robbery. But the U.S. Supreme Court did not specify an appropriate length of time for such sentences, apparently prompting the state appellate court questions in the Gridine and Taylor cases, among others.
In 2011, a Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge reduced life terms to 60-year terms for Nathan Walker Jr. and Taylor, who were 16 and 15 when they participated in the brutal Dunbar attack of the 35-year-old woman and her 12-year-old son. A jury had convicted them of multiple charges, including kidnapping and sexual battery.
Walker's appeal is pending. But in its Taylor opinion, the 4th District Court of Appeal questioned whether the Graham ruling applies "to lengthy term-of-years sentences that amount to de facto life sentences."
"If so, at what point does a term-of-years sentence become a de facto life sentence?" the appellate court asked.
Bernard Fernandez, the attorney who fought Taylor's appeal, says the 60-year sentence for his client is unconstitutional under Graham because it has all the force of a life sentence. Parole is not available in Florida's criminal justice system. "Isn't it tantamount to a life spent in prison?" Fernandez asked.
Moreover, Fernandez argues that Taylor, who is now 21, "cannot be expected to survive until his possible release at age 66, much less age 75." In an appellate court brief, Fernandez cited a 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control concerning life expectancy for black males. The report found that in 2006, then 14-year-olds like Taylor would live only another 50 years. This clearly violates the Supreme Court's intention for juvenile defendants to gain release from prison based on "demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation," Fernandez argued.
But Assistant Attorney General Celia A. Terenzio, in a response, wrote Taylor's 60-year sentence didn't violate the Supreme Court decision simply because it's not a life term. The state also contends Taylor would be released "well before his life expectancy age of 71 years."
State prosecutors, in asking for the sentence to be upheld, also argued Taylor was a willing perpetrator who stuck around during the entire nearly three-hour attack. "Whatever mitigating factors must be considered regarding the shortcomings of adolescence and how those should impact a juvenile's culpability, the facts of this case do not support any finding that such mitigation was at play in Appellant's participation in these thirteen horrific and sadistic crimes," Terenzio wrote.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
"Constitutionally Tailoring Punishment"The title of this post is the title of this great-looking new article by Richard A. Bierschbach and Stephanos Bibas. Here is the abstract:
Since the turn of the century, the Supreme Court has begun to regulate non-capital sentencing under the Sixth Amendment in the Apprendi line of cases (requiring jury findings of fact to justify sentence enhancements) as well as under the Eighth Amendment in the Miller and Graham line of cases (forbidding mandatory life imprisonment for juvenile defendants). Though both lines of authority sound in individual rights, in fact they are fundamentally about the structures of criminal justice. These two seemingly disparate lines of doctrine respond to structural imbalances in non-capital sentencing by promoting morally appropriate punishment judgments that are based on retail, individualized input and reflect the views and perspectives of multiple institutional actors.
This new understanding illuminates how both doctrines relate to the Court’s earlier regulation of capital sentencing and how checks and balances can promote just punishment in a pluralistic system. It also underscores the need for other actors to complete the Court’s work outside the confines of rights-based judicial doctrines, by experimenting with a broader range of reforms that are not constitutionally required but rather are constitutionally inspired.
July 13, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Blakely Commentary and News, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Monday, July 01, 2013
A year after Miller confirmed kids are different, how may kids have different sentences?The question in the title of this post is inspired in part by this public letter posted last week from the director of The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Here are excerpts from the letter (with one key link preserved):
The item linked in the above-quoted discussion is this fascinating three-page document headlined "State Legislative Roundup One Year after Miller v. Alabama." That document notes, inter alia, that since "the Miller decision last June, three states passed legislation that removed JLWOP as a sentencing option for youth."
[The last week of June 2013] marks the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Miller v. Alabama, which struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children. Since then, strides have been made to move our justice system toward one that recognizes the fundamental differences between children and adults, and that provides all youth with a chance to demonstrate their unique capacity for growth and change. Advocates across the country have ushered in better outcomes for youth convicted of serious crimes, and have successfully laid the groundwork for future legislative reforms. But much work remains. Today we want to share with you some of the highlights and challenges faced by our movement in the year since the Court handed down its decision in Miller.
The Miller decision advanced the fundamental notion that "kids are different" in youth justice reform across the country. We saw an advocacy community leverage Miller to spark meaningful debate in state legislatures across the country, furthering the education of policymakers about why children should not receive adult sentences. Bills were introduced in more than 15 states, which we describe in more detail in our Miller legislative roundup. We saw a growing and engaged coalition of local and national organizations — including the Boy Scouts of America, the American Correctional Association, the National PTA, and the American Psychological Association — come together to voice their support for fair, age-appropriate alternatives to death-in-prison sentences for children. And due to the tireless work of legal advocates, people declared irredeemable as youth in Illinois, Delaware, and Indiana were given second chances.
We are also mindful of the immense challenges that lie ahead. In the coming year, we expect to confront legislative proposals in a handful of states that undermine the letter and spirit of the Miller decision. We expect courts-which to this point have handed down varied interpretations on the reach and scope of the decision-to weigh in on whether Miller applies to the more than 2,000 individuals currently serving mandatory life-without-parole sentences. And we anticipate difficulties in advancing our reform message in a legislative and criminal justice climate that for years has been dominated by racially-charged rhetoric and shortsighted "tough-on-crime" policies.
As the question in the title of this post suggests, unmentioned in all the terrific materials assembled by The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (from which I got the inforgraphic posted here) is any accounting one-year after Miller of what is happening specifically to the "more than 2,000 individuals currently serving mandatory life-without-parole sentences" for crimes committed while juveniles. I hope this public policy group and/or others are working toward a full (or even partial) accounting of just how many of these juvenile criminals serving LWOP are succeeding in now securing different sentences as a result of Miller and its aftermath.
I know it is likely very challenging (and very costly) to review and monitor all those defendants whose sentences were called in to question by the Miller ruling. But a number of organizations, government agencies, and even public websites and have shown an affinity for, and an ability to, keep a close watch on many thousands of death sentences and all the murder defendants who go on and off state death rows. If even a small portion of the attention now given to capital cases could be redirected to track juve LWOP cases, we could and would over time all be able to garner a much keener sense of the real impact and import of the Miller ruling.
July 1, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
"Efforts to Fix a Broken System: Brown v. Plata and the Prison Overcrowding Epidemic"The title of this post is the title of this Note available via SSRN and authored by Lauren Salins and Shepard Simpson. Here is the abstract:
Excessive incarceration is a national problem. Across the country, prisons face dangerous levels of overcrowding, which has led to unconstitutional conditions of confinement and the inability of states to effectively rehabilitate their inmates. Ardent public support of “tough on crime” policies inhibits state legislatures from enacting successful reforms. In turn, states spend large percentages of their budget to sustain failing and ineffective corrections systems. By some estimates, states could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually if they reduced prison populations through proactive reforms, such as early release programs and diversionary tactics. In light of these factors, a consideration of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Plata to uphold an unprecedented prisoner release order is both timely and necessary as the case approaches its two-year benchmark.
This Note argues that the Court’s holding in Brown did not overstep the judicial boundaries imposed by the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), but rather was a step in the right direction toward acknowledging and remedying constitutional violations occurring in California’s severely overcrowded prison system. Moreover, the Court’s analysis of PLRA will help courts navigate the statute’s procedural requirements.
While California has made progress toward complying with Brown’s prisoner release order, this seminal case sheds light on the need for proactive reform in prison systems nationwide to prevent unconstitutionally high levels of overcrowding in the first place. As states are confronted with this new “release or reform” reality, this Note will facilitate the much-needed discussion surrounding long-term solutions to the overcrowding epidemic in U.S. prisons.
UPDATE: This recent article from the Los Angeles Times, headlined "California's prison crowding is growing, state report says," provides a useful reminder that all discussions of prison overcrowding problems remain very timely.
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
In lengthy split opinion, Minnesota Supreme Court concludes Miller should not apply retroactivelyWith thanks to the reader who made sure I did not miss the ruling from late last week, I can report on another state Supreme Court deciding whether to give the Miller's decision prohibition on the mandatory LWOP sentencing of juvenile murderers retroactive effect. Specifically, in a lengthy split opinion in Chambers v. Minnesota, No. A11-1954 (Minn. May 31, 2013) (available here), a majority of the Minnesota Supreme Court decided that "the rule announced in Miller v. Alabama, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), is a new rule of criminal constitutional procedure that is neither substantive nor a watershed rule implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding."
A little concurrence by one of the state Justices expressed hope that "perhaps a clearer explanation of retroactivity doctrine by the United States Supreme Court" might come down in the future.
And the lead dissent gets off to a scientific start via this notable quote by Danish physicist Niels Bohr: "Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future."
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
"Not Just Kid Stuff? Extending Graham and Miller to Adults"The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Michael O'Hear available now via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The United States Supreme Court has recently recognized new constitutional limitations on the use of life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences for juvenile offenders, but has not clearly indicated whether analogous limitations apply to the sentencing of adults. However, the Court’s treatment of LWOP as a qualitatively different and intrinsically more troubling punishment than any other sentence of incarceration does provide a plausible basis for adults to challenge their LWOP sentences, particularly when they have been imposed for nonviolent offenses or on a mandatory basis. At the same time, the Court’s Eighth Amendment reasoning suggests some reluctance to overturn sentencing practices that are in widespread use or otherwise seem to reflect deliberate, majoritarian decisionmaking.
This Essay thus suggests a balancing test of sorts that may help to account for the Court’s varied Eighth Amendment decisions in noncapital cases since 1991. The Essay concludes by considering how this balancing approach might apply to the mandatory LWOP sentence established by 21 U.S.C. §841(b)(1)(A) for repeat drug offenders.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
"Not -So -Sweet Sixteen: When Minor Convictions Have Major Consequences Under Career Offender Guidelines"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new Note by Andrew Tunnard just published in the Vanderbilt Law Review. Here are excerpts from this Note's introduction explaining its themes and scope:
[T]hree circuits [the Third, Seventh and Ninth have all] reasoned that adult convictions stemming from crimes committed before the age of eighteen can count toward the career offender sentencing provisions of the Guidelines (“Career Offender Guidelines”), regardless of whether the prior sentence was served in a juvenile facility. The Fourth and Eleventh Circuits stand in opposition; they apply the Career Offender Guidelines by inquiring into the nature of the sentence served. If a prior conviction resulted in a sentence served in a juvenile facility, this conviction cannot be counted toward a career offender determination.....
This Note looks beyond the circuit split to the larger juvenile justice issues implicated by these sentencing practices. Part II provides a brief overview of the juvenile justice system, juvenile transfer statutes, and the Guidelines. Part III explores the interpretive issues that have led to this circuit split. Part IV explains why resolving this circuit split requires more than choosing one side, and expands the discussion by analyzing the impact of recent judicial and scientific trends on the treatment of juvenile offenders in the adult system. Part V proposes that convictions occurring before the age of eighteen should not be factored into a career offender enhancement, regardless of the nature of the conviction or sentence. Ultimately, this solution creates a judicially manageable rule supported by Supreme Court precedent, state law, and the overall rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system.
May 26, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Thursday, May 23, 2013
NACDL rolls out state-by-state "excessive sentencing" proportionality litigation resource
I am extraordinarily proud and excited to report that, as detailed via a new NACDL news release, that the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is now offering, "as a resource for its members and as a service to the public, a collection of individual downloadable documents that summarize for each U.S. state the key doctrines and leading court rulings setting forth constitutional and statutory limits on lengthy imprisonment terms and other extreme (non-capital) sentences."
This resource has been given the name Excessive Sentencing: NACDL’s Proportionality Litigation Project its main page can be accessed via this link. Here is a bit more from the NACDL press release about the resource (and also my role therein):
Development of this new resource was inspired in part by the Supreme Court’s recent landmark constitutional decisions in Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (May 17, 2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 245 (June 25, 2012), which pronounced new Eighth Amendment limits on when and how states can impose life without parole prison terms on juvenile offenders. The state profiles and related materials provide a detailed snapshot of existing proportionality doctrines and jurisprudence as of fall 2012. They are intended as a resource for practitioners in all phases of the criminal justice system, for sentencing and appellate courts, for policymakers and advocates concerned with the high economic and human costs of excessively long terms of imprisonment, and for defendants facing or serving extreme prison terms.
The primary academic supervisor of this resource is Professor Douglas A. Berman of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.... Professor Berman intends to update these materials regularly as developments in the law warrant and new information becomes available.
On the project’s landing page –- which can be accessed here -- there is a free, nearly 90-minute sentencing skills webinar featuring Professor Berman and Stephen Hardwick, an assistant public defender in Columbus, Ohio....
In addition, the project landing page has this additional account of what this resource now provides and hopes to help achieve:
The state profiles and related materials, which were prepared by recent law school graduates under the supervision of Professor Douglas A. Berman, provide a detailed snapshot of existing proportionality doctrines and jurisprudence as of fall 2012. Unsurprisingly in the wake of Graham and Miller, there has been a significant increase in state-level litigation concerning lengthy prison terms, especially for juvenile offenders. The expectation is to have Professor Berman, in conjunction with the pro bono efforts other lawyers and aided especially by NACDL members and others who utilize this resource, revise and update these profiles regularly.
The profiles and charts are intended as a resource for practitioners in all phases of the criminal justice system, for sentencing and appellate courts, for policymakers and advocates concerned with the high economic and human costs of excessively long terms of imprisonment, and for defendants facing or serving extreme prison terms. The Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed that the Eighth Amendment’s “scope is not static [but] must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958); state-level doctrinal and jurisprudential developments have thus always had heightened federal constitutional significance in this area of law. Moreover, state policy-makers and state jurists have long understood that the Eighth Amendment sets only a minimum constitutional floor limiting only the most extreme punishment policies and practices: state lawmakers and judges can and should feel not merely free, but institutionally obliged, to consider developing their own distinct legal limits on unduly harsh sentencing terms based on distinct state-level requirements and needs. The profiles posted here demonstrate that, even though there is some notable convergence in state-level proportionality doctrines, there are also some important variations and innovations concerning how states seek to protect its citizens from extreme or excessive criminal punishments.
I plan to discuss this web resource and the broader NACDL projectin a series of posts over the next few weeks and months. For now, I just hope everyone will take a look at what we have posted (and perhaps begin commenting on what other materials might be usefully assembled and linked in this space).
May 23, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Graham and Sullivan Eighth Amendment cases, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack
Monday, April 29, 2013
"Is 100 Years a Life Sentence? Opinions Are Divided"The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Sidebar column in the New York Times by Adam Liptak. Hard-core sentencing fans should realize from the title that this is a story about one of the many doctrinal questions gurgling in lower courts three years after a landmark Eighth Amendment SCOTUS ruling. Here are excerpts from the column:
If people who are too young to vote commit crimes short of murder, the Supreme Court said in 2010, they should not be sentenced to die in prison. That sounds straightforward enough. But there are two ways to understand the decision, Graham v. Florida.
One is formal. The court may have meant only to bar sentences labeled “life without parole.” On that understanding, judges remained free to impose very long sentences — 100 years, say — as long as they were for a fixed term rather than for life....
The other way to understand the decision is practical. If the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment requires that young offenders be left with a glimmer of hope that they may someday be released, it should not matter whether they were sentenced to life in so many words or as a matter of rudimentary actuarial math.
The lower courts are split on how to interpret the Graham decision, and the Supreme Court seems to be in no hurry to answer the question. Last week, the justices turned away an appeal from Chaz Bunch of Ohio, who was convicted of kidnapping and raping a woman in a carjacking when he was 16. He was sentenced to 89 years. Even assuming he becomes eligible for early release, he will be 95 years old before he can leave prison.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, upheld the sentence, even as it acknowledged that there were two ways to approach the matter.... Until the Supreme Court speaks, Judge Rogers wrote, there is no “clearly established federal law” to assist Mr. Bunch, who was challenging his state conviction in federal court.
Applying the reasoning of the Graham decision to long fixed sentences, Judge Rogers added, “would lead to a lot of questions.” An appeals court in Florida last year listed some of them in upholding a 76-year sentence meted out to Leighdon Henry, who was 16 when he committed rape.
“At what number of years would the Eighth Amendment become implicated in the sentencing of a juvenile: 20, 30, 40, 50, some lesser or greater number?” Judge Jacqueline R. Griffin wrote for the court.
Mr. Henry is black and was born in 1989. The life expectancy of black males born that year was 64, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Life expectancy in prison is shorter than it is outside. Wherever the line is, then, a 76-year sentence would seem to be past it. “Could the number vary from offender to offender based on race, gender, socioeconomic class or other criteria?” Judge Griffin asked.
That is a reasonable question. But Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., said it was the wrong one. “The idea isn’t to get the person as close to death as possible before you deal with the possibility of their release,” he said. It is, rather, to give juvenile offenders a sporting chance, perhaps after decades in prison, to make the case that they deserve to get out, he said....
The number of juvenile offenders serving de facto life terms because of very long sentences is probably in the hundreds. Some of the appeals court judges who have upheld such sentences did not sound enthusiastic about the task. “Without any tools to work with, however, we can only apply Graham as it is written,” Judge Griffin wrote. “If the Supreme Court has more in mind, it will have to say what that is.”
April 29, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Graham and Sullivan Eighth Amendment cases, Offender Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Arkansas Supreme Court explains what Miller ruling means now for Kuntrell JacksonAs reported in this AP piece, in a ruling today the Arkansas Supreme Court "ordered a new sentencing hearing for Kuntrell Jackson, whose case was one of two that led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year throwing out mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles." The nine-page ruling in Jackson v. Norris, 2013 Ark. 175 (April 25, 2013) (available here), is an interesting read for a number of reasons.
First, this latest round of habeas litigation for Kuntrell Jackson does not deal at all with any possible dispute over whether the Supreme Court's Miller ruling is to be given retroactive effect. This may because it appears the prosecution did not contest Jackson's request to be resentencing in light of Miller, as evidence by this sentence from the opinion: "We agree with the State’s concession that Jackson is entitled to the benefit of the United State’s Supreme Court’s opinion in his own case. See Yates v. Aiken, 484 U.S. 211, 218 (1988)."
Second, after parroting most of the key language from the SCOTUS Miller ruling, the Arkansas Supreme Court has an interesting discussion of how to revamp the sentencing provisions applicable to Kuntrell Jackson's conviction in the wake of Miller. Here is how that discussion finishes:
We thus instruct the Mississippi County Circuit Court to hold a sentencing hearing where Jackson may present Miller evidence for consideration. We further instruct that Jackson’s sentence must fall within the statutory discretionary sentencing range for a Class Y felony. For a Class Y felony, the sentence is not a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole, but instead a discretionary sentencing range of not less than ten years and not more than forty years, or life. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-4-401(a)(1) (Repl. 1997).
Finally, we are mindful that Jackson argues that as a matter of Eighth Amendment law, and because of the unique circumstances of this case, he cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment. However, it is premature to consider whether a life sentence would be permissible given that a life sentence is only one of the options available on resentencing.
Notably, Jackson's crime took place in 1999, and I presume he has been in custody since his arrest. In other words, given that he has already served more than a decade in prison and that the Arkansas Supreme Court has decided he is now eligible for a sentence as low as 10 years, he could possibly upon resentencing get a term of only time served. Going forward, it will be interesting to see what sentence state prosecutors request and what sentence actually gets imposed on Jackson at his future resentencing.
April 25, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Nebraska legislature debating "Miller fix" sentencing proposalsAs reported in this local article, headlined "Debate begins on juvenile sentencing bill," the single body that legislates in Nebraska is sorting through competing ways to deal with the Supreme Court's handiwork in Miller. Here are the basics:
Senators turned away two attempts Monday to amend a bill that calls for a minimum sentence of 30 years for juveniles convicted of first-degree or felony murder.
They defeated amendments that sought to make the minimum sentence 60 years and one that would have removed specific mitigating factors for judges to consider when sentencing....
A 30-year minimum sentence would provide discretion to the courts and is in line with current science on juvenile brain development, said Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, who introduced the bill.
With a 30-year minimum sentence, the offender would be eligible for parole in 15 years. A judge would have the option of sentencing the convicted juvenile to more time -- or could impose a life sentence.
The Supreme Court ruled judges must consider a defendant's age, immaturity, impetuosity and failure to appreciate risks and consequences. They must take into account the family and home environment that surrounds the youth. The Nebraska bill would require the court to consider those mitigating factors, as well as the outcome of a comprehensive mental health evaluation by a licensed adolescent mental health professional.
On Monday, senators defeated an amendment by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, after dividing it into two questions: One that would have made the minimum sentence 60 years was defeated on a 21-23 vote. The other, which would have eliminated consideration of mitigating factors, was defeated on a 16-27 vote.
Ashford said in crafting a constitutional solution to the Nebraska life sentence, the committee knew the 35-year sentence in Pennsylvania and the 60-year sentence in Iowa were under constitutional attack. "Sixty is just beyond the pale. It would never, in my view, pass constitutional muster," he said.
Supporters of the amendment said the possibility of parole after 15 years was unacceptable. And judges already consider such factors as those listed in the bill. Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy said the discussion on the 60-year minimum sentence could resume Tuesday.
Among other stories, I find it interesting and notable that on-going constitutional litigation in other states over efforts to respond to Miller is clearly impacting how Nebraska's legislature is working through its legislative fix. I think famed constitutional theorist Alexander Bickel, who often spoke of the import and impact of a multi-branch national dialogue about core constitutional principles (see post here by Barry Friedman at SCOTUSblog), would be quite pleased to see how just such a dialogue is unfolding as to how best to operationalize the sentencing principles set out in the Miller ruling.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Pennsylvania Supreme Court addresses Miller's impact for some of its state's juvenile murderersAs reported in this local news article, headlined "Supreme Court: Juvenile killer to get new sentencing," Pennsylvania's top court handed down today a long-awaited ruling concerning the sentencing of juvenile offenders in the Keystone State. Here are the basics via this news report:
Teenage killer Qu'eed Batts will receive a new sentencing hearing for the gang-ordered murder he committed in Easton when he was 14, but he could still end up spending the rest of his life in prison nonetheless.
That's what advocates on both sides of Batts' case said Tuesday following a long-anticipated Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling on how the state should address Batts and nearly 500 other once-youthful murderers whose automatic life without parole sentences were declared unconstitutional last year by the nation's highest court.
Given the federal ruling that such sentences are cruel and unusual punishment, Batts must be given a new sentencing hearing in which he receives a maximum sentence of life and a minimum sentence determined by the judge, said the opinion by Justice Thomas Saylor.
But what that minimum sentence might be was unanswered by court, with advocates for juveniles acknowledging that it probably could still be a life sentence, or a prison term that is so long that it is, in essence, life. "That could be anything," said Robert Schwartz, the executive director of the Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia, which argued on behalf of Batts. "It appears that it also could be a minimum of life. There is absolutely nothing to guide [the sentencing judge's] discretion."
In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court addressed an issue that it struggled with during oral arguments in September: What to do over the fate of Batts and other juveniles murderers serving a now-unconstitutional sentence. The court rejected the stance taken by the Juvenile Law Center: that youths serving life terms should be resentenced under the charge of third-degree murder, which can bring at most 20 to 40 years in prison.
Northampton County First Deputy District Attorney Terence Houck said the ruling was a victory for prosecutors that leaves open the possibility that Batts should never be released, as Houck plans to argue at resentencing. "All they are saying is that there has to be a minimum. That minimum can be 150 years," Houck said, adding: "I don't think Batts should ever get out. He's the poster boy for life in prison." Batts, now 21, shot to death 16-year-old Clarence Edwards and wounded 18-year-old Cory Hilario in 2006 in the West Ward....
Under state law, murders in the first and second degree must result in a life sentence, with no other punishment possible — the exact scenario the nation's top court deemed unconstitutional for those under 18....
Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of juveniles jailed for life, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which opposes that penalty. Pennsylvania has 444 such inmates, followed by Michigan at 346 and Louisiana at 332, the Washington, D.C.-based group says. The Juvenile Law Center puts Pennsylvania's number closer to 480, including one inmate in Graterford State Prison who has spent 59 years behind bars.
The extended majority opinion in Pennslyvania v. Batts is available at this link, and a brief concurrence is available at this link. A quick read of the ruling suggests to me that Deputy DA Terence Houck is right to view this ruling as a victory for prosecutors: in addition to rejecting claims that the defendant should be subject to sentencing under a lesser-degree of homicide, the Batts court also rejected any claim that the Pennsylvania Constitution's prohibition of "cruel punishment" should be interpreted to give juvenile defendants any more protection than the US Constitution and its prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment."
Finally, while the news report suggests this ruling resolves the fate of all juve LWOP sentences in Pennsylvania, my quick review of the Batts opinion suggests that the ruling does not address any Miller retroactivity rulings. For some reason, I had thought retroactivity issues were before the Pennsylvania's top court, but the Batts ruling states in its first sentence that it "concerns the appropriate remedy, on direct appeal, for the constitutional violation occurring when a mandatory life-without-parole sentence has been imposed on a defendant convicted of first-degree murder, who was under the age of eighteen at the time of his offense" (emphasis added).
How Appealing has a round up of additional press coverage concerning the Batts ruling here.
March 26, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Is TJ Lane eager to be the "uncommon" juvenile murderer who can constitutionally get an LWOP sentence?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local news report about a high profile state sentencing proceeding which took place in Ohio this morning. The piece is headlined "Ohio school shooter, wearing 'KILLER' T-shirt, sentenced to life in prison," and here are excerpts:
An Ohio judge has sentenced T.J. Lane, the Ohio teen charged with shooting three students to death and wounding three others last February, to life in prison without parole.
Lane showed up to his sentencing wearing a white T-shirt with the word "KILLER" in capital letters scrawled on it -- the same word police say he had emblazoned on his shirt the day of the shootings at Chardon High School.
Lane, 18, pleaded guilty last month to all charges against him in the Feb. 27, 2012, shootings, in which he opened fire on a cafeteria table full of students in the rural community of Chardon.
In a brief statement during his sentencing on Tuesday, Lane flipped his middle finger to people in the courtroom, which included family members of his victims, reported NBC affiliate WKYC.com. He revealed his "KILLER" T-shirt to the court once he was inside, taking off a blue button-down shirt he had worn on the way in, the station reported.
Three students -- Demetrius Hewlin, 16; Russell King Jr., 17; and Daniel Parmertor, 16 -- were killed last February. Nate Mueller and Joy Rickers were wounded, as was Nick Walczak, who is paralyzed from the waist down, according to Reuters.
Lane has not given a motive for the shootings, which rocked the tiny town 30 miles outside Cleveland.
The families of the boys who died in the shooting have attended every one of Lane’s court hearings, The Plain Dealer said. "I feel he should be locked up for the rest of his life," Domenick Iammarino, grandfather of Daniel Parmertor told The Plain Dealer ahead of the sentencing. "It was a despicable, premeditated act. He should breathe his last breath in prison."
Those readers involved with juvenile sentencing or following closely modern Eighth Amendment rulings concerning life without parole sentences (LWOP) know that the Supreme Court in its recent ruling in Miller v. Alabama stated that "given all we have said in Roper, Graham, and this decision about children’s diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change, we think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon." It would seem that TJ Lane, who was well past his seventeenth birthday at the time of his seemingly random act of mass murder, was eager to use his time in court today to help ensure that he could be a "poster child" for the kinds of cases and kinds of juvenile defendants for which an LWOP sentence may still be constitutionally permissible.
A few recent related posts:
- "Sentenced to Confusion: Miller v. Alabama and the Coming Wave of Eighth Amendment Cases"
- "Constitutional Line Drawing at the Intersection of Childhood and Crime"
- Is Miller an Eighth Amendment "bombshell or baby step"?
March 19, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Does new Eighth Amendment limits on juve sentencing redefine requirements of juve transfer proceedings?The question in the title of this post, to which I know many folks involved with juvenile justice reform have given thought, is prompted today by some interesting dicta at the end of an interesting Sixth Circuit concurring opinion rejecting an interesting habeas claim of ineffective assistance concerning a lawyers's failure to contest a Tennessee juve's transfer to adult court for a murder prosecution. The ruling in Howell v. Hodge, No. 10-5493 (6th Cir. Mar. 13, 2013) (available here), is mostly focused on habeas realities and Tennessee transfer laws, but these paragraphs at the end of Judge Stranch's concurring opinion out to be of broader interest:
I have recounted the evidence supporting the decision of the juvenile court at length because I believe it is important to clarify what I find problematic about the analysis of the expert reports and testimony. Clarification is especially important due to the significance of transferring a juvenile to adult court for trial and sentencing, even where a terrible crime such as this one is at issue. The United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 2468 (2012), reviewed the considerations that it found must separate sentencing of adults from that of children, including: a juvenile’s impetuosity and lack of appreciation of risks and consequences; her inability to escape brutal and dysfunctional social or home situations; her incompetencies in dealing with the criminal justice system; and other factors relating to the diminished moral culpability of children. The differences that make juveniles more susceptible to influence also result in a heightened capacity for change and, therefore, a greater prospect for reform. Id. at 2464-65, 2469. Thus, in reviewing a decision to transfer a juvenile to adult court — especially one that results, as here, in a sentence of life without parole — Miller teaches that we must always be cognizant of “the great difficulty . . . of distinguishing at this early age between ‘the juvenile offender whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity, and the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.’” Id. at 2469 (quoting Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 573 (2005)). These considerations and concerns are highlighted by the specific holding in Miller — that the Eighth Amendment prohibits states from imposing sentences of “mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes.” Id. at 2460.
Miller’s holding does not categorically foreclose the sentence of life without the possibility of parole imposed on Howell. Language in the Court’s opinion, however, highlights my concerns about the analysis necessary when making and reviewing decisions to transfer juveniles to adult court and raises questions regarding the propriety of the sentence of life without the possibility of parole in this case. The Miller majority observed that the reasoning of Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010), upon which it relied and which prohibits the imposition of life without the possibility of parole sentences on juvenile offenders for nonhomicide crimes, “implicates any life-without-parole sentence imposed on a juvenile, even as its categorical bar relates only to nonhomicide offenses.” Miller, 132 S. Ct. at 2465. The majority also observed that “appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to [life without the possibility of parole] will be uncommon.” Id. at 2469. Moreover, in his concurring opinion, Justice Breyer argued that, based on Graham, “the kinds of homicide that can subject a juvenile offender to life without parole must exclude instances where the juvenile himself neither kills nor intends to kill the victim.” Id. at 2475-76. As here, one of the defendants in Miller was found guilty of felony murder and was not responsible for the killing, and no evidence indicated that he had any intent to kill. Id. at 2477. In Justice Breyer’s view, before the State could continue to impose a sentence of life without parole for this defendant, it would first need to determine whether he “kill[ed] or intend[ed] to kill” because, “without such a finding, the Eighth Amendment as interpreted in Graham forbids sentencing [the defendant] to such a sentence, regardless of whether its application is mandatory or discretionary under state law.” Id. at 2475 (internal quotation marks omitted). Though the scenario posited has parallels to Howell’s situation, Miller is not necessarily dispositive and these issues are not before us today
March 13, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Friday, March 08, 2013
Is Miller an Eighth Amendment "bombshell or baby step"?I have the honor and pleasure of participating today in a fantastic Missouri Law Review symposium which is to explore the question in the title of this post. This webpage details today's schedule of panels and speakers, and this page reports on these essentials of today's event:
This year's Missouri Law Review Symposium will focus on constitutional, practical and policy matters, regarding juveniles and sentencing more generally, that now challenge courts, legislatures and attorneys in the opinion's wake.
On the constitutional front, in what ways are adult offenders who are subject to mandatory sentencing schemes asking lower courts to extend Miller, and how are those courts replying? The Miller opinion extends the Court's "death is different" doctrine to mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles: should that doctrine, requiring individualized sentencing, apply in other contexts? How are state legislatures and Congress responding — and how should they respond — in designing sentencing procedures for juvenile homicide offenders? What special challenges will attorneys face when representing a juvenile in a life-without-parole sentencing trial? Morally, to what extent, if any, do recent discoveries in developmental psychology and neuroscience shed normative light for courts and legislatures on juvenile offenders.
Judge Nancy Gertner, Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School, will deliver the keynote address. She will be joined by eminent attorneys, inside and outside the academy, to explore these and other important questions regarding criminal sentencing in general and juvenile sentencing in particular.
March 8, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Monday, March 04, 2013
"Constitutional Line Drawing at the Intersection of Childhood and Crime"The title of this post is the title of this intriguing looking new paper now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Three cases have arisen in the first seven years of the Roberts Court in which concepts of childhood have played a key role. First came Graham v. Florida, a 2010 case in which the Court held that the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment's Clause prohibited sentencing of juveniles to life without parole for non-homicide offenses. Next was J.D.B. v. North Carolina, a 2011 case in which the Court held that a juvenile's age is a relevant consideration when determining whether a reasonable person would believe he was in custody for Miranda purposes. Finally, the Court decided Miller v. Alabama, a 2012 case in which the Court held that the mandatory imposition of life without parole in cases where juveniles were convicted of homicide was cruel and unusual punishment because it precluded consideration of age and its attendant consequences.
Though at first glance these three cases appear consistent -- they each result in some degree of enhanced constitutional protection for juveniles -- a closer look reveals significant jurisprudential tension because the opinions are riddled with contradictions. This Article explores those tensions and the need to resolve them, focusing in particular on two major line-drawing problems that have emerged in the juvenile cases. The first is inherent to but largely ignored in the cases: whether and where to draw the line between childhood and adulthood. The second line is judicially manufactured: the line between homicide and non-homicide offenses. The Article describes and critiques the Court's line drawing and offers proposed solutions to remedy flaws in the Court's reasoning.
March 4, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Monday, January 28, 2013
Intriguing Massachusetts developments in response to SCOTUS Miller rulingAs reported in this local article, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has today set out "proposed legislation that would eliminate mandatory life sentences without parole for teens under 18 convicted of first-degree murder." Here is more from the article:
The measure filed by Patrick Monday would also raise the age for juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18 in Massachusetts. Under current state law, teens as young as 14 can be tried as adults for first-degree murder. Conviction on first-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence without parole in Massachusetts. Patrick’s bill would still allow life sentences without parole for juveniles under certain circumstances....
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles are unconstitutional. Because of that Supreme Court case -- Miller v. Alabama -- the change proposed by Patrick to eliminate mandatory life sentences for teens is not a great surprise, several lawyers said....
According to a prepared statement issued by Patrick’s office, “An Act to Reform the Juvenile Justice System in the Commonwealth” will create a fairer justice system for the state’s youth. “Every violent felon should be held accountable for their actions, even youth. But in sentencing every felon’s circumstances should be considered, too, and youth itself is a special circumstance,” Patrick said. “It is time for the Commonwealth’s laws to reflect the value, in accord with the Supreme Court, that young people deserve every opportunity for rehabilitation and reform,” he said.
State Public Safety Secretary Andrea Cabral said, “The governor’s legislation recognizes the importance of providing juveniles with age-appropriate resources for rehabilitation. It builds on established research that proves an adolescent brain affects behavior and judgment, but that rehabilitation is possible.”
“Fair treatment of juveniles requires both holding them accountable for their actions and ensuring the highest degree of public safety in order to keep the Commonwealth’s neighborhoods safe and secure," she said.
This lengthy press release from Gov. Patrick's office provides a lot more detail on the details in the juve justice reforms now being proposed in the Bay State.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
"Sentenced to Confusion: Miller v. Alabama and the Coming Wave of Eighth Amendment Cases"The title of this post is the title of this recently published essay by Craig Lerner, which gets started this way:
In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court held unconstitutional roughly 2,000 life-without-parole sentences,which had been imposed on juveniles by twenty-eight states and the federal government. The nominal license for the exercise of this power was the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which proscribes “cruel and unusual punishments.” The astute (or perhaps naïve) reader will wonder: how can 2,000 sentences imposed by a majority of U.S. jurisdictions be unusual? For that matter, is it possible that a majority of U.S. jurisdictions countenance a “cruel” punishment?
These questions are premised on the now-quaint idea that the phrase “cruel and unusual punishments” was relevant to the Court’s decision in Miller. Although the Court has touted adherence to the Constitution’s text and its historical understanding as a basic interpretive principle in decisions examining the Second, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments, this even-numbered originalism collapses at“eight.” The jurisprudence of he Eighth Amendment was long ago untethered from its text, and as a consequence, the decision in Miller came as little surprise.
Monday, October 22, 2012
Seventh Circuit panel rejects defendant's Eighth Amendment challenge to crack LWOP sentenceThe Seventh Circuit has an interesting little panel ruling today rejecting an Eighth Amendment claim in US v. Ousley, No. 11-2760 (7th Cir. Oct. 22, 2012) (available here). Here is how the opinion starts and ends:
Anthony A. Ousley has an extensive history of peddling illegal drugs. Caught dealing drugs yet again, Ousley was convicted of four felonies, including one count of possession of more than 50 grams of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). On that count, the district court imposed a mandatory life sentence pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). On appeal, Ousley contends that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments precludes a mandatory life sentence for dealers who possess a smaller quantity of crack cocaine than the quantity of powder cocaine necessary to trigger a similar sentence for powder cocaine dealers. We affirm....
Ousley questions the continued vitality of these decisions [rejecting similar prior appeals] in light of the Supreme Court’s recent Graham decision addressing the constitutionality of sentencing a juvenile to life without parole for a non-homicide crime. Before Graham, the Supreme Court had adopted categorical rules prohibiting death sentences for certain types of crimes or offenders.... In Graham, the Supreme Court held that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole for a non-homicide crime constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. 130 S. Ct. at 2030; see also Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 2475 (2012) (extending Graham to juvenile murderers). Thus, Graham is the first instance wherein the Supreme Court endorsed a categorical prohibition on a non-capital sentence — life without parole — for a certain type of offender — juveniles.
Ousley argues that Graham relieves us of our obligation to follow Harmelin, Ewing, and our decisions rejecting Eighth Amendment challenges to life sentences imposed pursuant to § 841(b)(1)(A). According to Ousley, Graham empowers us to consider in the first instance whether to adopt a categorical prohibition on mandatory life sentences without parole for crack cocaine dealers who possess an amount of crack cocaine less than the amount of powder cocaine necessary to trigger a mandatory life sentence for powder cocaine dealers. Ousley urges us to embrace this categorical rule based on the purported national consensus against crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparities.
Congress has addressed any national consensus issue in the Fair Sentencing Act. And this court recently held that Graham and Miller do not abrogate Harmelin. United States v. Cephus, 684 F.3d 703, 709 (7th Cir. 2012) (“Neither opinion overrules Harmelin; both, indeed, distinguish it explicitly. Our defendants were not juveniles and their crimes were more serious than the crime in Harmelin.”). Moreover, “[e]ven if we thought Harmelin inconsistent with Graham and Millerand likely to be overruled, the Supreme Court has . . . told the lower courts in no uncertain terms to leave the overruling of its precedents to it.” Id.
Therefore, we conclude that Harmelin, Ewing, and our precedent unmistakably foreclose Ousley’s Eighth Amendment challenge to § 841(b)(1)(A). The district court did not commit legal error — much less plain error.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Without fanfare, Louisiana Supreme Court gives retroactive effect to Miller via brief orderAccording to at least one accounting I have seen, Louisiana has nearly 250 persons serving LWOP for offenses committed when they juveniles. I believe this makes Louisiana fifth among all states in total juve LWOP prisonder (and the leading state if judged on a per-capita basis). Thus, a little ruling on Friday from the state Supreme Court in Louisiana v. Simmons, No. 11-KP-1810 (La. Oct. 12, 2012) (available here), seems like quite a big deal. Because the per curiam ruling is just one paragraph long, I will reprint the whole thing here:
Writ granted. Relator is presently serving a sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor without possibility of parole for a second degree murder committed in 1995 when he was 17 years old. The sentence was mandated by the penalty provision of the statute establishing the offense. La.R.S. 14:30.1(B). In 2011, relator filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence in which he contended that a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for a juvenile offender is no longer constitutionally permissible under developing legal standards, and in particular in light of Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. __, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed.2d 825 (2010) (Eight Amendment precludes sentencing juvenile offenders to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide crimes). The district court denied relief. While review of that judgment was pending, the United States Supreme Court determined that mandatory life imprisonment without parole for those offenders under the age of 18 years at the time they committed a homicide offense violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.” Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ____, ____,132 S.Ct. 2455, 2466, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012). Unlike the case in Graham, the Miller court did not prohibit life imprisonment without parole for juveniles, but instead required that a sentencing court consider an offender’s youth and attendant characteristics as mitigating circumstances before deciding whether to impose the harshest possible penalty for juveniles who have committed a homicide offense. Therefore, we grant to remand to the district court for reconsideration after conducting a sentencing hearing in accord with the principles enunciated in Miller and stating the reasons for reconsideration and sentencing on the record.
Because of the date of the underlying conviction, this Simmons ruling seems like a big deal because it suggests that the Louisiana Supreme Court has, without pause, ordered giving retroactive effect to the Miller ruling. A little research indicates that Louisiana has a statutory provision providing for motion to correct an illegal sentence at any time, so perhaps it is neither surprising nor that big a deal that the state Supreme Court has here been quick to order what might be called a Miller resentencing hearing. Still, because there are so many Louisiana juve LWOPers, and because this order calls for "reconsideration after conducting a sentencing hearing in accord with the principles enunciated in Miller," this little ruling seems to me to be a big deal.
Some prior major posts on Miller and its potential impact:
- All juvenile defendants get narrow procedural Eighth Amendment win in Miller
- Issue-spotting the mess sure to follow Miller's narrow (procedural?) ruling
- Basic mandatory juve LWOP head-count in light of Miller
- Data and resources to gear up for the coming Miller meshugas
- Taking stock on what Miller is likely to portend
- Pennsylvania Supreme Court hearing arguments on (first?) major Miller retroactivity cases
- Intermediate Florida appeals court decides Miller is not to apply retoractively
- One of thousands of post-Miller personal (and sentencing) stories
October 15, 2012 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
"Juvenile Offenders in Limbo under Outdated State Laws"The title of this post is the headline of this effectivenew report from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange concerning some state struggles following the Supreme Court's recent Eighth Amendment rulings in Graham and Miller. Here are excerpts:
The Washington Court of Appeals ruling referenced above was announced in this "unpublished" state habeas opinion handed down last week. In addition, this local article, headlined "Rebuffed by Michigan Supreme Court, Attorney General Bill Schuette presses forward to keep juvenile lifers behind bars," provides more background on the efforts by the Michigan AG to prevent the Miller ruling from applying retroactively. It starts this way:
More than two years after U.S. Supreme Court decisions started throwing out mandatory death and life sentences for minors, judges in Washington, Illinois and dozens of other states still lack guidance on what to do with juveniles past and present convicted of murder and some other serious felonies.
“Courts are uncomfortable in trying to figure out what ‘life’ means in terms of years,” said Kimberly Ambrose, senior law lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law. She represented Guadalupe Solis-Diaz at the state’s Court of Appeals, arguing against a 92-year sentence he’s serving for six counts of first-degree assault and other charges for his role in a drive-by shooting. The then 16-year-old Solis-Diaz fired into a crowd in Centralia, Wash., in 2007, though did not injure his target or anyone else.
It’s not clear in Washington if those 92 years are equivalent to what the U.S. Supreme Court calls “life” sentences. The federal high court has definitively thrown out state sentencing laws that mandate life without parole for juveniles. Beginning with the 2005 Roper v. Simmons case and more recently with Graham v. Florida in 2010 and Miller v. Alabama in 2012, the court says that juveniles are not yet fully mentally developed, are less culpable and more capable of reform. Therefore, lower court judges must consider those and other mitigating factors when sentencing juveniles for both homicide and non-homicide offenses.
Solis-Diaz’ counsel at his original sentencing failed to mention that U.S. Supreme Court trend. That omission, said the state appeals court, was one of several mistakes that contributed to their decision this month to throw out Solis-Diaz’ 92 years, on grounds of ineffective counsel. “This is the first life-equivalent case to come before a Washington appellate court,” said Ambrose, speaking of non-homicide offenses.
But the court also noted it would not opine on any other sentence for Solis-Diaz. “The legislature is the appropriate body to define crimes and fix punishments. To the extent that Graham suggests that an opportunity for parole must be available for juvenile offenders convicted of non-homicide offenses, only the Legislature has the authority to amend the SRA [Sentencing Reform Act] to allow for such remedy,” the opinion reads....
Many judges are grappling with how to amend their current laws to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on juvenile sentences. Some state legislatures have yet to update laws to comply with the two-year-old Graham case. And most state legislatures have been closed since the June, 2012 Miller decision, so have had no chance to start thinking about it. Thus judges dealing with juveniles convicted of murder must figure out if it would apply to juvenile offenders sentenced before it, and how to handle appeals, all without legislative guidelines....
More than 100 people have been sentenced to life without chance of parole in Illinois for crimes committed as minors, according to a 2010 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nationally, there are more than 2,500 juvenile offenders who have received this sentence in the states that did or do allow it, according to The Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth, an advocacy group....
Michigan’s Supreme Court declined to settle retroactivity in its state this month. Attorney General Bill Schuette asked the Court to rule out retroactivity on the life sentence of a man convicted of participating in an armed robbery as a 16-year-old. Instead, the court remanded the case for resentencing.
Attorney General Bill Schuette has lost his bid to have the state Supreme Court halt resentencing of juvenile lifers, so he is turning to the next best thing. Schuette will attempt to join a case currently before the state Court of Appeals, where judges will soon hear a request to reconsider the sentence of a man serving a mandatory life term for a killing at age 15.
The battle stems from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that found mandatory life sentences for minors are unconstitutionally cruel. Schuette claims the ruling should not be retroactive. “This is the best opportunity we’re going to have to get an answer on retroactivity,” said Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for Schuette. “The decision will still be binding on all lower courts.”
Schuette argues the new mandate that mitigating circumstances, including age, must be considered before sentencing is not a “watershed event,” but a mere procedural change affecting only current and future cases.
The state Supreme Court on Sept. 1 rejected Schuette’s request to immediately settle the retroactivity issue in a 1993 murder case involving 16-year-old Cortez Davis, now 35. Instead, the court sent the case back to Wayne County Circuit Court for consideration, possibly forcing a long wait if the ultimate decision is appealed by either side.
September 26, 2012 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Monday, September 17, 2012
How should the law respond to those who kill before they are teenagers?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new AP article discussing the debate over how Florida is dealing with Cristian Fernandez, who at age 12 was charged last year with the murder of a 2-year-old half-brother. Here are excerpts from the piece:
A decade before he was charged with murder, a 2-year-old Cristian Fernandez was found naked and dirty, wandering a South Florida street. The grandmother taking care of him had holed up with cocaine in a messy motel room, while his 14-year-old mother was nowhere to be found.
His life had been punctuated with violence since he was conceived, an act that resulted in a sexual assault conviction against his father. Fernandez' life got worse from there: He was sexually assaulted by a cousin and beaten by his stepfather, who committed suicide before police investigating the beating arrived....
Now 13, Fernandez is accused of two heinous crimes himself: first-degree murder in the 2011 beating death of his 2-year-old half-brother and the sexual abuse of his 5-year-old half-brother. He's been charged as an adult and is the youngest inmate awaiting trial in Duval County.
If convicted of either crime, Fernandez could face a life sentence — a possibility that has stirred strong emotions among those for and against such strict punishment. The case is one of the most complex and difficult in Florida's courts, and it could change how first-degree murder charges involving juvenile defendants are handled statewide.
Underscoring the unusual nature of the case, Fernandez' defense attorneys said they aren't sure how to proceed since the U.S. Supreme Court threw out mandatory life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders in June. Another complication involves whether Fernandez understood his rights during police interrogations....
Supporters of local State Attorney Angela Corey say she's doing the right thing by trying Fernandez as an adult: holding a criminal accountable to the full extent of the law. But others, like Carol Torres, say Fernandez should be tried in juvenile court and needs help, not life in prison. "He should be rehabilitated and have a second chance at life," said Torres, 51. Her grandson attended school with Fernandez and she has created a Facebook page to support him.
In other states, children accused of violent crimes are often charged or convicted as juveniles. In 2011, a Colorado boy pleaded guilty to killing his two parents when he was 12; he was given a seven-year sentence in a juvenile facility and three years parole. A Pennsylvania boy accused of killing his father's pregnant fiancée and her unborn child when he was 11 was sent this year to an undisclosed juvenile facility where he could remain in state custody until his 21st birthday.
The Justice Department said that 29 children under age 14 committed homicides around the country in 2010, the most recent year for which the statistics were available...
Based on psychological evaluations, prosecutors say that Fernandez poses a significant risk of violence. That's why he is being detained pre-trial — and why they charged him with two first-degree felonies.
Yet difficult questions remain for Judge Mallory Cooper: Should a child so young spend his life in prison? Does Fernandez understand his crimes, and can he comprehend the complex legal issues surrounding his case?
In August, Cooper ruled that police interrogations of Fernandez in the murder and sexual assault cases are not admissible, saying Fernandez couldn't knowledgeably waive his rights to remain silent and consult an attorney. Prosecutors are appealing.
The defense wants the charges dismissed, saying the U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning sentences of life without parole for juveniles makes it impossible for them to advise Fernandez since the Florida Legislature has not changed state law. Prosecutors say they never said they would seek a mandatory life sentence — they say the old Florida law that called for a 25-year-to-life sentence could apply.
Mitch Stone, a Jacksonville defense attorney who is familiar with the case, said Corey and her prosecutors are in a tough position. "I know they're good people and good lawyers," he said. "But if a resolution short of trial doesn't occur, this case is on a collision course to sending Cristian Fernandez to life in prison. That's why this is one of those very difficult cases. It's hard to understand what the appropriate measure is."
Related post on Fernandez case:
September 17, 2012 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
Interesting report on how Florida prosecutor approaches Graham and MillerOver the long weekend, the Tampa Tribune had this interesting article about the impact and import of Graham and Miller for Florida's juvenile offender. The piece is headlined "Courts grappling with juveniles' life sentences," but I found most notable the discussion of a Florida prosecutor's approach to Graham and Miller in light of Florida law and procedure:
Prison inmates who committed murder when they were juveniles have a chance to one day walk free because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned automatic life sentences without parole for juvenile killers. Now the courts have to figure out what to do with about 15 Hillsborough County convicts and hundreds in Florida.
The full impact of the June ruling — as well as a decision last year that barred all life without parole sentences for juveniles who commit crimes other than murder — remains to be seen. In answering the question about the constitutionality of such sentences, the court created a slew of other questions about what sentences would be considered appropriate.
"The only way we can get further clarification of what is permissible and what is not is through trial and error," said Michael Sinacore, felony chief for the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office. "We have to have cases where sentences get imposed, and the sentences get appealed and the appellate courts will weigh in on whether whatever was done is proper."...
"With Graham, we're getting a pretty good feel for how the courts are treating it, but the Florida Supreme Court has not weighed in yet," Sinacore said. "The U.S. Supreme Court has not weighed in on what term of years would be appropriate. That could take years, if ever."...
Sinacore said the position of his office in these non-homicide cases is to calculate the life expectancy of defendants then advocate for a sentence that takes parole and prison credit into account, allowing a defendant to become eligible for release a few years before the end of his life.
The office takes a different approach in the homicide cases addressed in the June Supreme Court decision, Miller vs. Alabama. In those cases, the state attorney and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi maintain that state law reverts to what it was before life without parole became the automatic sentence on May 1, 1994.
So, defendants convicted of first-degree murder for killings committed when they were juveniles would have their sentences become life with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Therefore, there would be no need to hold new sentencing hearings for them, if this position is upheld by the courts....
In a quirk of the law, this would not work with defendants convicted of second-degree murder, Sinacore said. "Under the former law you could not get life without parole for a first-degree murder, but you could for a second-degree murder and for a non-homicide offense." Sinacore said this happened because of the way the law developed with the death penalty. The 25-year parole requirement for first-degree convicted murderers who did not get a death sentence was an enhancement. At the time, defendants convicted of other crimes could be eligible for parole earlier, at the judge's discretion, or they could be required to serve life without parole.
"The 25-year parole eligibility was specific to capital offenses, which would be capital sexual battery and capital murder," Sinacore said. "Second-degree murder was a life felony; somebody could be sentenced to life in the judge's discretion. So if the judge used discretion, as opposed to a mandatory sentencing for life, you could get life without parole even under the previous version of the statute."
Because of that, he said, the Miller decision means juvenile killers convicted of second-degree murder will be entitled to new sentencing hearings "unless by some bizarre chance, the judge, at the time of sentencing, actually considered the status of the juvenile's development and how they would continue to develop in the future and all the issues that the Supreme Court says you have to take into consideration -- the maturity of the child basically."
September 4, 2012 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
"Meaningless Opportunities: Graham v. Florida’s 'Meaningful Opportunity for Release' for Juvenile Offenders and the Reality of De Facto LWOP Sentences"The title of this post is the title of this forthcoming Comment by Mark Freeman available now via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In 2010 the United States Supreme Court decided Graham v. Florida, which held that LWOP sentences for juvenile, non-homicide offenders were unconstitutional. This Comment argues that de facto LWOP sentences, lengthy term of years sentences that exceed a juvenile's natural life expectancy and effectively guarantee the offender will die in prison, are also unconstitutional for juvenile non-homicide offenders.
Part II provides a brief overview of the Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and how lower courts have responded to Graham. Part III explains why de facto LWOP sentences for juveniles who commit non-homicide crimes will fail the Supreme Court’s traditional Eighth Amendment tests and argues for a categorical ban against these sentences. Part IV discusses the practical implications of this Comment and whether juvenile offenders will see any meaningful change if courts adopt a categorical ban. Part V concludes that courts should embrace the spirit of Graham’s holding and provide a meaningful opportunity for juvenile offenders to experience life outside of prison before they die.
August 22, 2012 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Thursday, August 16, 2012
California Supreme Court unanimously applies Graham to lengthy term-of-years sentence
The California Supreme Court issued a significant ruling today concerning application of the US Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment Graham ruling within the state. The lead opinion in People v. Caballero, No. S190647 (Cal. Aug. 18, 2012) (available here), starts and ends this way:
In Graham v. Florida (2010) 560 U.S. ___ [130 S.Ct. 2011] (Graham), the high court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits states from sentencing a juvenile convicted of nonhomicide offenses to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. (Id. at p. ___ [130 S.Ct. at p. 2030].) We must determine here whether a 110-year-to-life sentence imposed on a juvenile convicted of nonhomicide offenses contravenes Graham's mandate against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. We conclude it does....
Consistent with the high court's holding in Graham, supra, 560 U.S. ___ [130 S.Ct. 2011], we conclude that sentencing a juvenile offender for a nonhomicide offense to a term of years with a parole eligibility date that falls outside the juvenile offender's natural life expectancy constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Although proper authorities may later determine that youths should remain incarcerated for their natural lives, the state may not deprive them at sentencing of a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate their rehabilitation and fitness to reenter society in the future. Under Graham's nonhomicide ruling, the sentencing court must consider all mitigating circumstances attendant in the juvenile's crime and life, including but not limited to his or her chronological age at the time of the crime, whether the juvenile offender was a direct perpetrator or an aider and abettor, and his or her physical and mental development, so that it can impose a time when the juvenile offender will be able to seek parole from the parole board. The Board of Parole Hearings will then determine whether the juvenile offender must be released from prison “based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” (Id. at p. ___ [130 S.Ct. at p. 2030].) Defendants who were sentenced for crimes they committed as juveniles who seek to modify life without parole or equivalent defacto sentences already imposed may file petitions for a writ of habeas corpus in the trial court in order to allow the court to weigh the mitigating evidence in determining the extent of incarceration required before parole hearings. Because every case will be different, we will not provide trial courts with a precise time frame for setting these future parole hearings in a nonhomicide case. However, the sentence must not violate the defendant's Eighth Amendment rights and must provide him or her a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation” under Graham's mandate.
Thursday, August 09, 2012
Graham crackers?: Florida judge "reduces" juve LWOP sentence to 100 years
The bad play on words in the title of this post is prompted by this fascinating local article from Florida headlined "Hillsborough judge gives 'juvenile' offender 100-year-sentence." Here are the details:
For a day of terror 24 years ago that started with near-murder and ended with rape, Jere Walker will not leave prison at least until he is an old man — even though the five life sentences he got when he was 17 have been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Walker, now 41, came before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Debra Behnke on Wednesday, asking her to let him put behind him the crimes he committed as a youth that he now realizes were "life-shattering" and "soul-crushing." His victims included a former state attorney who went on to become an appellate judge, his wife and their widowed friend, and a Texas tourist who said rape ruined her life.
Behnke took only minutes to resentence. She said Walker's crimes occurred in the same year she became a judge — 1988. Since then, she said, "I've seen thousands of cases, very few with facts like this. That's the only speech I have." She then gave Walker 100 years....
Because of a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that said juveniles who don't commit murder can't be given life sentences with no hope of parole, Walker had a chance of a new sentence and possible release. His attorney argued that Walker already has served the equivalent of a 47-year sentence, factoring in gain time. The attorney asked the judge to sentence Walker to two years of community control and allow him to live with his family. They would provide work for him at a pressure-cleaning business.
The prosecutor sought an 80-year sentence that he said would keep Walker in prison until at least his early 60s. Behnke's sentences Wednesday went beyond what the prosecutor sought. She gave Walker two consecutive 30-year sentences for robbery and attempted first-degree murder. She added to those a 40-year sentence for two counts of sexual battery. They added up to 100 years.
To determine a release date, the state Department of Corrections now has to calculate how much gain time Walker has earned. At the time of his convictions, the state allowed prisoners to earn up to 20 days per month in gain time, but he had disciplinary problems that could affect that. He also would have to behave for decades to come to earn more gain time. Assistant State Attorney Douglas Covington said he could only estimate that Walker will remain imprisoned into his elder years.
Whether such long sentencings meet the Supreme Court's guidelines is being debated throughout the country. "It's an evolving area of the law," said Tampa defense attorney John Fitzgibbons. "Where is the line drawn between a sentence that conforms to the Supreme Court's holding that there must be a possibility of parole versus a sentence of years so lengthy that the defendant will die in prison?" He predicted that question will be battled in courts for years to come.
Wednesday, August 08, 2012
Florida courts struggling with what Graham means for long juve term-of-years sentences
As reported in this local article, headlined "Courts ponder: When is juve’s long prison term effectively ‘life’?," a notable court ruling from Florida today spotlights an on-going struggle for state courts in the wake of Graham. Here are the basics:
A district appeals court urged the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to weigh in on how long is too long when sentencing a juvenile for crimes other than murder, since the U.S. Supreme Court has said such kids can’t spend their entire lives in prison.
A three judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal noted that the lower courts have disagreed on just how long a juvenile would have to be sentenced for it to be a “de facto life sentence.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 in Graham v. Florida that it was unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life sentences for non-homicide crimes.
Since then, appeals courts have found that in some cases where the sentence wasn’t technically life, the juvenile would still be likely to spend life in prison, because the term of years was longer than their life expectancy.
That was exactly what the DCA found in the particular case at issue Wednesday. The court ordered a new sentence for a 16-year-old, Demahgio Adams, who robbed and shot someone multiple times – but without killing the victim -- and was given a sentence that would require him to serve at least 58 and a half years, meaning he wouldn’t be released until he is nearly 76. That would exceed his life expectancy, the court said, finding the sentence a “de facto” life sentence that is unconstitutional.
But at least one other DCA in the state has held differently, so the judges said the state Supreme Court should decide whether the Graham opinion applies to long sentences that aren’t technically life sentences, and “if so, at what point does a term-of-years sentence become a de facto life sentence?”
The case referenced in this article, Adams v. Florida, No. 1D11-3225 (Fla. 1st Dist. Aug 8, 2012) (available here), makes for an interesting read and spotlights an issue that could face many state courts in the wake of Graham (and also now that Miller may raise the same kind of issue for any juves given very long mandatory sentences for homicide offenses).
August 8, 2012 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Taking stock on what Miller is likely to portend
This new piece from The Crime Report, which is headlined "A Reprieve for Juvenile Lifers?," provides an effective review of what the Supreme Court's recent Eighth Amendment work in Miller could prompt. Here is how it gets started:
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision banning mandatory life without parole for juvenile criminals gave inmates like Christine Lockheart a glimmer of hope. In response to the Court’s ruling, the Iowa Court of Appeals earlier this month overturned Lockheart’s mandatory life sentence for a murder committed when she was 17 and ordered a judge to hold a new sentencing hearing.
But less than a week later, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad commuted the sentences of all state prisoners serving mandatory life terms for crimes committed as juveniles, and instead gave them life with the possibility of parole after 60 years.
Lockheart’s lawyer says he plans to challenge Branstad’s order in court, arguing that it violates the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama. That ruling said that sentencing judges should consider the individual circumstances of crimes committed by juveniles, including “how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”
Lockheart’s case is among the first of what criminal justice experts say will be numerous and lengthy legal battles as courts and state legislatures across the country determine how to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling—and what to do with the estimated more than 2,000 prisoners currently serving mandatory life sentences for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.
“This is very clean at the wholesale level and very messy at the retail level,” said Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St.Thomas Law School, in Saint Paul, MN. “It’s very clear from 10,000 feet that children are different.” Osler, who specializes in sentencing law, added: “But with these 2,000 cases, it’s going to be pretty messy with a lot of different outcomes.”
Though the Court barred mandatory life sentences for juveniles, experts said it left unanswered a host of legal issues that could impact who is eligible for a new sentence and what rights they have. It remains unclear whether the Court’s ruling is retroactive, whether prisoners who petition for a new sentence are entitled to a lawyer, and what standards should be used in handing down sentences for juveniles.
“I expect this will be bounced back up to the Supreme Court multiple times because all those questions have to be answered,” said Frank Bowman, a professor at the University of Missouri and a former federal prosecutor and special counsel to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. “We will be litigating this for years.”
Related recent posts on Miller:
- All juvenile defendants get narrow procedural Eighth Amendment win in Miller
- Issue-spotting the mess sure to follow Miller's narrow (procedural?) ruling
- Basic mandatory juve LWOP head-count in light of Miller
- Data and resources to gear up for the coming Miller meshugas
- Questioning forceful (but suspect) claims by the varied Miller dissents: the Roberts/textualism numbers
- Questioning forceful (but suspect) claims by the varied Miller dissents: the Thomas/originalism methods
- Questioning forceful (but suspect) claims by the varied Miller dissents: Alito/legislative judgment concerns
- Criticism of Justice Alito's one-size-fits-all dissent in Miller
- Guest post on Miller from Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, President of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers
- Guest post on Miller from another thoughtful victim of a teenage killer
- Iowa Gov uses clemency power to devise (astute? sinister?) response to Miller for juve LWOPers
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Fascinating Eighth Amendment ruling by Kansas appeals court about (uniquely?) extreme sex offender sentence
I have been slow to note a remarkable Eighth Amendment opinion handed down late last week by a Kansas appellate court in State v. Proctor, No. 104,697 (Kan. Ct. App. July 6, 2012) (available here). (Hat tip to Eugene Volokh.) The lengthy opinion and its (limited?) import are hard to summarize, so I will quote in full the start of the opinion here:
In this case, the court must address the constitutionality of a sentence potentially subjecting Defendant Daniel Proctor to lifetime postrelease supervision and, in turn, to imprisonment for life without parole if he were later to commit any felony, including a property crime otherwise calling for probation. Proctor faces that prospect because he pled guilty to a sex offense — aggravated indecent solicitation of a child — for which he has received a permissible guideline sentence of probation. For Proctor, a man in his early 20′s, the statutory sentencing scheme could put him behind bars for 50 years if he were to shoplift a $1,000 ring or computer or to write a bad check for them. Given Proctor’s circumstances and the peculiarly harsh result that could be inflicted on him, the sentence violates the protections against cruel and unusual punishment contained in § 9 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The punishment may be considered grossly disproportionate in that context and incompatible with the general purposes of incarceration as a sanction in the criminal justice system. We, therefore, vacate the sentence imposed on Proctor to that extent and remand to the Saline County District Court for resentencing.
The governing statutes create the prospect of an exceptionally severe punishment — life in prison without parole is second only to a death sentence in its extremity — for persons convicted of designated sex offenses who then commit property crimes. For Proctor, the disparity between his criminal conduct and that punishment reflects an imbalance of a magnitude implicating constitutional protections. The Kansas sentencing statutes permit probation for both his underlying offense in this case and property crimes amounting to felonies. But the commission of those two offenses in that order may lead to life in prison with no prospect for release. Controlling authority from the United States Supreme Court and the Kansas Supreme Court construing the federal and state constitutional prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment cannot be reconciled with that result. The sentencing scheme exacts a punishment harsher than those for murder, kidnapping, and other crimes the Kansas Legislature has designated as more serious than Proctor’s. It also appears to be more severe than similar statutes applied to sex offenders in the vast majority of other states. Those are the ingredients of an unconstitutionally disproportionate punishment.
The analysis by this appellate panel to back up these conclusions is quite interesting and worth a close read by any and everyone interested in the development of modern Eighth Amendment jurisprudence.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Questioning forceful (but suspect) claims by the varied Miller dissents: the Roberts/textualism numbers
Though I still have tons of questions about what the new Eighth Amendment SCOTUS Miller ruling will come to mean (opinion here, basic questions here and here and here), I now have some first thoughts on the three intriguing Miller dissents. Though covering some overlapping grounds (and overlapping votes), I think it is fair to short-hand these dissents using their authors and main themes: (1) the Roberts/textualism dissent, (2) the Thomas/originalism dissent, and (3) the Alito/legislative judgment dissent.
Notably, the relatively short Miller majority opinion (perhaps wisely) does not very deeply engage with all the points made in the dissenting opinions, but there is a lot of interest and force in these dissents. However, though seemingly forceful in various ways, I see a suspect judgment or assertion or conclusion at the heart of each dissent. In a series of three posts, I hope to explain briefly the suspect foundation in each of these dissents. I will start here by questioning number-crunching in the Roberts/textualism dissent in Miller.
Chief Justice Roberts' lead Miller dissent, which was signed by all the dissenters, rests on a forceful textual point set forth in these two sentences at the end of first paragraph: "The pertinent law here is the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits 'cruel and unusual punishments.' Today, the Court invokes that Amendment to ban a punishment that the Court does not itself characterize as unusual, and that could not plausibly be described as such." Though I see much force and wisdom in the Chief's concern for the term "unusual" in any interpretion of the Eighth Amendment, I think a careful and sober assessment of the data makes it quite "plausible" to characterize the sentences at issue in Miller as unusual.
First, if we focus just on Kuntrell Jackson's case before SCOTUS, it seems quite "unusual" for a teenage accomplice to a felony with no clear intent to kill and no significant criminal history to be subject to a mandatory LWOP sentence. Though data here can be slippery, there are probably hundreds (if not thousands) of teens each year who are accomplices to felonies in which someone is killed and I suspect very few of these teenage felony-murder accomplices in any given year get a mandatory LWOP. (Many of the teen accomplices without a criminal history, I would bet, are not even arrested or charged with murder, let alone brought into the adult system and subject to a mandatory LWOP sentence.)
There has been, roughly speaking, about 40 years of modern LWOP sentencing, which in turn has resulted in a total of about 2500 juve killers with LWOP sentences (of which about 2000 were imposed manditorily). I would be surprised if more than 20 of these juve LWOPers are just teenage felony-murder accomplices without a significant criminal history like Kuntrell Jackson. Because one could (very conservatively) guess that there have been 20,000 teenage felony-murder accomplices over the last four decades, Kuntrell Jackson's sentence is fairly considered a 1 in 1000 event. It seems quite appropriate (and surely "plausible") to describe such a rare event as "unusual."
Of course, ever the careful and effectively dissenter, the Chief Justice does not really take on whether Kuntrell Jackson's sentence is "unusual" (and his Graham concurrence leads me to think he might have been inclined to join a very narrow opinion that just struck down Jackson's mandatory sentence, perhaps with emphasis on mens rea points stressed in Justice Breyer's concurrence). Rather, the heart of the Chief's dissent is his complaint is that the majority in Miller has used the Eighth Amendment to "ban a punishment" (i.e., mandatory LWOP for any and all teen killers) that is not "unusual." But, even with this wider framing, I am not sure the numbers concerning the frequency of mandatory LWOP are as compelling as the Chief suggests.
Again, as to the frequency of the sentence, we have gone 40 years to get roughly 2000 mandatory juve LWOP sentences imposed, meaning we average over this period roughly 50 such sentences per year. In footnote 1 of his dissent, the Chief notes than DOJ statistics indicate that 1,170 juves were arrested for serious homicide in 2009. Taking just these numbers on their face, one could assert that a juve killer getting a mandatory LWOP sentence is roughly a 1 in 23 event. I think it is possible (and surely "plausible") to describe a 1 in 23 event as "unusual," though surely reasonable minds could differ on this front. (To use a sports metaphor, I think it would be reasonable to say it is "unusual" when the New York Mets win the World Series, even though they have done so twice in the last 45 years.)
Moreover, and perhaps more important, the Chief has fudged the numbers here a bit when referencing the 1,170 juves arrested for serious homicide in 2009, because juve homicides are way down compared to just a decade ago. Once again, data here can be slippery, but I think it is fair to say there were on average much closer to 2000 juve homicides per year over the last 40 years. Using 2000 as the denominator, the odds of a juve killer getting a mandatory LWOP is now a 1 in 40 event. Something that happens only 2.5% of the time seems to me to be "unusual."
This all said, the Chief Justice is certainly on solid ground that a mandatory LWOP sentence for a juve killer is not as unusual as the juve LWOP nonhomicide sentences at issue in Graham. But, critically, the text of the Eighth Amendment does not demand that a punishment be "very unusual" to be unconstitutional, it only demands that a punishment be "unusual." Further still, I do not think this number crunching holds the secret to unlocking an idealized modern Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. But, as will be my goal in all my posts in this series on the Miller dissents, I just want to flag the reality that a key forceful claim in this lead dissent can be viewed as suspect when fully unpacked.
Monday, June 25, 2012
All juvenile defendants get narrow procedural Eighth Amendment win in Miller
Though I am still trying to figure out all the opinions in today SCOTUS Eighth Amendment ruling in Miller v. Alabama (opinion here, basics here), I think I am correct to assert that the ruling is a (surprising?) big win for any and all older juveniles sentenced to LWOP under a mandatory sentencing scheme, while also appearing to be a (surprising?) potential loss for anyone hoping or expecting the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional any and all LWOP sentences for any and all juvenile offenders.
Here are the paragraphs from the start and end of the majority opinion in Miller per Justice Kagan which lead me to the conclusion that the Miller ruling is pretty limited and narrow as a win for juvenile defendants:
The two 14-year-old offenders in these cases were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In neither case did the sentencing authority have any discretion to impose a different punishment. State law mandated that each juvenile die in prison even if a judge or jury would have thought that his youth and its attendant characteristics, along with the nature of his crime, made a lesser sentence (for example,life with the possibility of parole) more appropriate. Such a scheme prevents those meting out punishment from considering a juvenile’s “lessened culpability” and greater “capacity for change,” Graham v. Florida, 560 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 17, 23), and runs afoul of our cases’ requirement of individualized sentencing for defendants facing the most serious penalties. We therefore hold that mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments.”...
Graham, Roper, and our individualized sentencing decisions make clear that a judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penalty for juveniles. By requiring that all children convicted of homicide receivelifetime incarceration without possibility of parole, regardless of their age and age-related characteristics and the nature of their crimes, the mandatory sentencing schemesbefore us violate this principle of proportionality, and sothe Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. We accordingly reverse the judgments of the Arkansas Supreme Court and Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and remand the cases for further proceedings notinconsistent with this opinion.
I am very much drawn to this procedural approach to the issues in Miller and Jackson, in part because this was the way I urged the Court to resolve these cases in this amicus brief I filed along with my students. But, until I have a full chance to review the holding and dicta in the Miller opinions, I am not quite yet ready to praise without reservations this new important Eighth Amendment decision.
June 25, 2012 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (44) | TrackBack
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
NY Times debates "When to Punish, and When to Rehabilitate" for juve offenders
The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on when, if ever, it is appropriate to sentence juvenile offenders to life without parole. The arguments this spring showed the complexity of drawing the lines between child and adult, and between justice and cruelty.
When minors commit violent crimes, should they be treated differently from adults? Is prison effective as a punishment and deterrent for juveniles, or does it harden a young person who might otherwise recover?
Here are the contribututions, with links via the commentary titles:
"Prison Is Too Violent for Young Offenders" by Gary Scott, inmate, San Quentin
"In Sentencing, Remember the Victims" by Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers
"Behind Bars, Teenagers Become Prey" by T.J. Parsell, writer and human rights activist
"Adult Punishments Should Be an Option" by Charles Stimson, Heritage Foundation
"Prison Does Not Make Good Citizens" by R. Daniel Okonkwo, D.C. Lawyers for Youth
"The Race Factor" by Jennifer L. Eberhardt and Aneeta Rattan, Stanford University
"Seeing Juveniles’ Maturity, and Immaturity" by Laurence Steinberg, adolescent brain researcher
"Teenagers Too Often End Up in Solitary" by Amy Fettig, A.C.L.U.
"The Cost of Prison, in Dollars and Lives" by Michael Jacobson, director, Vera Institute of Justice
June 6, 2012 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Seeking advice on (and cites to) thoughtful state Eighth Amendment rulings
In all likelihood, we still have a few more weeks to wait for Supreme Court rulings in in Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama, the two big pending Eighth Amendment cases concerning the constitutionality of states sentencing 14-year-old killers to life without the possibility of parole. In part because I hope the coming rulings in Jackson and Miller might spark and provide a foundation for a new round of interesting constitutional litigation over extreme prison sentences (and not just for young offenders), I am interested in gathering information about the most interesting and thoughtful Eighth Amendment rulings coming from state courts in recent years (particularly in the wake of the Graham ruling).
I am aware of some leading recent state court Eighth Amendment rulings in states like California and Florida and Iowa, all of which had to swiftly and directly confront the import and impact of the Graham ruling for a number of juvenile offenders serving very long prison terms for nonhomicide offenses. But I know I have seen a few interesting and thoughtful post-Graham rulings concerning limits on adult sentences imposed by the Eighth Amendment (and/or similar state constitutional provisions) from state supreme courts in Ohio and South Dakota and others states. And I suspect there are (lots of?) notable rulings from lower state appellate courts (both affirming and reversing long prison sentences) that I have not seen.
Ergo this "bleg" for help from readers: Can and will folks via the comments to this post (or via an e-mail) suggest examples with cites/links to what they consider the most interesting and thoughtful Eighth Amendment rulings coming from state courts in recent years?
For purposes of this bleg, I am most interested in non-capital cases and especially those rulings involving challenges to adult sentences. But I am happy to hear about just about any recent significant state court rulings (for or against a defendant) that thoughtfully engage with modern Eighth Amendment doctrines and/or with comparable state constitutional provisions. Thanks!
May 30, 2012 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Graham and Sullivan Eighth Amendment cases, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Florida courts struggling with how to apply Graham to multi-decade juve sentences
This new AP piece, headlined "Fla. justices asked to rule on juvenile sentences," reports on how state courts in the Sunshine State are still struggling through the impact and implications of the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment ruling limiting juve LWOP sentences for nonhomicide offenses. Here are the details:
A three-judge appellate panel on Tuesday asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of a 70-year prison sentence for a teenager convicted of attempted first-degree murder in Jacksonville. The Florida 1st District Court of Appeal panel certified the issue to the justices as a question of great public importance.
Meanwhile, the state is appealing a decision by another 1st District panel that reversed a Pensacola inmate's 80-year sentence for a pair of armed robberies committed when he was 17.
They are among several cases arising from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, also in a Florida case, that sentencing juveniles to life in prison for non-homicide crimes is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. The high court ruling came in the case of Terrance Graham, who was initially sentenced to life in prison. The sentence was then reduced to 25 years in prison....
The state is appealing a 1st District ruling in April that reversed Antonio Demetrius Floyd's 80-year sentence. A three-judge appellate panel ruled a sentence that long is the functional equivalent of life in prison. Floyd originally received a life sentence but it was reduced after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Tuesday's certification came in the case of Shimeek Grindine, who was 14 when he shot a man during a 2009 robbery attempt. The appellate court previously affirmed Grindine's sentence in December on a 2-1 vote. The dissenting judge, James R. Wolf, wrote that he was at a loss on how to apply the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the case of Graham, also from Jacksonville, because the Legislature abolished parole in Florida.
"Is a 60-year sentence lawful, but a 70-year sentence not?" Wolf asked. "Regardless, it is clear to me that appellant will spend most of his life in prison. This result would appear to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the Graham decision."
The Legislature this year considered but did not pass bills that would have addressed the issue. They would have let a judge reduce a sentence of 10 or more years for non-homicide crimes committed as a juvenile once an inmate was at least 25 years old.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
George Will urges SCOTUS to find juve LWOP unconstitutional in all cases
I am intrigued and pleased to see that George Will's latest column in the Washington Post adopts the same position as I have embraced in the two juve LWOP cases, Miller and Jackson, now before the Supreme Court. Will's column is headlined "Cruel and unusual — a test case," and here are excerpts:
Today, 221 years after the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, the Supreme Court is again pondering the Eighth Amendment’s proscription of “cruel and unusual punishments.” The case illustrates the complexity of construing some constitutional language in changing contexts of social science and brain science.
Evan Miller, whose five suicide attempts surely had something to do with the serious domestic abuse he suffered, was complicit in a brutal murder and in 2006 was sentenced to life in an Alabama prison without the possibility of parole. Kuntrell Jackson was involved in a video store robbery during which an accomplice fatally shot the store clerk. In 2003, Jackson was sentenced to life in an Arkansas prison without the possibility of parole. Miller and Jackson were 14 when they committed their crimes. Both were tried as adults before judges who had no discretion to impose any other sentence. Such mandatory sentences preclude judges weighing a consideration of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence — proportionality.
Before its June 26 recess, the Supreme Court will decide whether sentencing children to die in prison is cruel. It certainly is unusual: Although 2,300 current prisoners have been sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles (age 17 or younger), just 79 prisoners in 18 states are serving sentences of life without parole for crimes committed when they were 13 or 14.
The court must consider not only what is society’s sense of cruelty but also how that sense should be shaped by what some new technologies reveal about adolescent brain biology. Shakespeare’s shepherd in “The Winter’s Tale” did not need to see brain scans to wish that “there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting.”
And with age-related laws restricting the right to drink, drive, marry, serve on juries, etc., all American states have long acknowledged adolescents’ developmental shortcomings. Neuroscience, however, now helps explain why aspects of adolescents’ brains make young people susceptible to impulsive behavior and to failing to anticipate and understand the consequences of it....
In 1958, the court said: “The [Eighth] Amendment must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” Justice Antonin Scalia has warned: “A society that adopts a bill of rights is skeptical that ‘evolving standards of decency’ always ‘mark progress,’ and that societies always ‘mature,’ as opposed to rot.” But even the “originalist” Scalia, although disposed to construe the Constitution’s terms as they were understood when ratified, would today proscribe some late-18th-century punishments, such as public lashing and branding.
Denying juveniles even a chance for parole defeats the penal objective of rehabilitation. It deprives prisoners of the incentive to reform themselves. Some prisons withhold education, counseling and other rehabilitation programs from prisoners ineligible for parole. Denying these to adolescents in a period of life crucial to social and psychological growth stunts what the court in 2005 called the prisoner’s “potential to attain a mature understanding of his own humanity.” Which seems, in a word — actually, three words — “cruel and unusual.”
Saturday, April 21, 2012
"Proportionality and Parole"
The title of this post is the title of this new article by Professor Richard Bierschbach, which is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Commentators analyzing the Supreme Court’s watershed decision in Graham v. Florida, which prohibited sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide crimes, have generally done so in substantive proportionality terms, ignoring or downplaying parole in the process. This Article challenges that approach, focusing on the intersection of proportionality and parole as a jumping off point.
Taking parole seriously makes clear that Graham is difficult to understand solely in terms of substantive proportionality concepts like individual culpability and punishment severity. Instead, the decision can be seen as establishing a rule of constitutional criminal procedure, one that links the validity of punishment to the institutional structure of sentencing. By requiring the state to revisit its first-order sentencing judgments at a later point in time, Graham mandates a procedural space for granular, individualized, and ultimately more reliable sentencing determinations. I expose this procedural and institutional side of parole’s constitutional significance, situate it within the constitutional landscape of sentencing, and sketch some of its implications for the future of sentencing regulation.