Thursday, May 21, 2015
Examining what qualifies as an LWOP sentence for purposes of Graham and Miller
This new piece at The Marshall Project, headlined "Life Expectancy: How many years make a life sentence for a teenager?," spotlights an Eighth Amendment issue that has been engaging lower courts in the five years since SCOTUS in Graham began putting limits of LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders. Eventually the Supreme Court will have to resolve the issue of just what qualifies as an LWOP sentence, and here is an account of issue (with some links to notable rulings):
James Comer was 17 when he, an older cousin, and their friend made a series of violent and irreversible decisions: One night in April 2000, they robbed four people at gunpoint. They followed one of their victims for miles as she drove home from her night shift as a postal worker, then pointed a gun at her head outside her house. Comer’s friend, 17-year-old Ibn Ali Adams, killed their second victim when he discovered the man had no money.
Comer’s youth, his lawyers argue, was at least partly responsible for his poor judgment and impulsive behavior. And it is his youth that may save him from dying in prison. Earlier this month, an Essex County, New Jersey, judge ordered a new sentencing hearing for Comer in light of Miller v. Alabama. ...
But Comer isn’t serving life without parole, at least not technically. For felony murder and multiple counts of armed robbery, he was sentenced to 75 years. He will be eligible for parole, but not until his 86th birthday — more than 20 years past his life expectancy, according to actuarial data his lawyers cited. This sentence “amounts to de facto life without parole and should be characterized as such,” the judge wrote.
Miller v. Alabama was the third in what’s come to be known as the “Roper/Graham/Miller trilogy” of cases in which the Supreme Court ruled, essentially, that kids are different. Teenagers’ still-developing brains make them more impulsive, more susceptible to peer pressure, and less able to understand the consequences of their actions. This makes them less culpable than adults and more amenable to rehabilitation as they mature, the court said.
With Roper, the court outlawed the death penalty for juveniles. With Graham, it struck down life-without-parole sentences for non-homicide crimes. With Miller, the justices forbid mandatory life-without-parole sentences, even for murder. Life sentences for juveniles are allowed only if the judge first has the chance to consider how youth and immaturity may have contributed to the crime....
Now a growing number of courts are interpreting the trilogy even more broadly, applying their principles to cases, like Comer’s, that aren’t explicitly covered by the court’s rulings.
“When read in light of Roper and Graham,” Miller v. Alabama “reaches beyond its core holding,” the Connecticut Supreme Court held last month in State v. Riley. In that case, 17-year-old Ackeem Riley was sentenced to 100 years in prison after he shot into a crowd in a gang-related incident, killing one teenager and wounding two children. The court ordered a new sentencing hearing, finding that the sentencing judge had not adequately considered Riley’s youth. Though Miller specifically targeted mandatory life without parole sentences — technically, Riley’s sentence was neither mandatory nor life without parole — the Supreme Court’s reasoning “counsels against viewing these cases through an unduly myopic lens,” the Connecticut court said.
In Brown v. Indiana, the state supreme court ordered a new sentencing hearing for Martez Brown, who was 16 when he and two friends killed a couple in a botched robbery. Quoting Miller, the court ruled that “similar to a life without parole sentence, Brown’s 150 year sentence ‘forswears altogether the rehabilitative ideal.’” Although Brown’s sentence was not formally a life-without-parole sentence, they wrote, “we focus on the forest — the aggregate sentence — rather than the trees — consecutive or concurrent, number of counts, or length of the sentence on any individual count.”
May 21, 2015 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Monday, May 11, 2015
"Brain Science and the Theory of Juvenile Mens Rea"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Jenny Carroll now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The law has long recognized the distinction between adults and children. A legally designated age determines who can vote, exercise reproductive rights, voluntarily discontinue their education, buy alcohol or tobacco, marry, drive a car, or obtain a tattoo. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld such age-based restrictions, most recently constructing an Eighth Amendment jurisprudence that bars the application of certain penalties to juvenile offenders. In the cases of Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama, the Court's jurisprudence of youth relies on emerging neuroscience to confirm what the parents of any teenager have long suspected: adolescents' cognitive abilities and thought processes differ from their adult counterparts. Children are different than adults.
In these rulings, the Court recognized that brain development affects the legal construct of culpability and so should affect punishment. The Court reasoned that without mature thought processes and cognitive abilities, adolescents as a class fail to achieve the requisite level of culpability demonstrated in adult offenders. As such, juveniles were categorically spared the death penalty and, in some instances, a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. To date, the Court has limited the application of this principle to punishment. The logic of the Court's decisions, however, applies just as strongly to the application of substantive criminal law. Just as modern neuroscience counsels against the imposition of certain penalties on juvenile offenders, so it counsels toward a reconsideration of culpability as applied to juvenile offenders through the element of mens rea. In this paper I argue that the failure to extend this jurisprudence of youth to the mental element undermines the very role of mens rea as a mechanism to determine guilt.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Considering one defendant getting a second look due to Miller retroactivity
One big reason I believe the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment ruling in Miller v. Alabama ought to be fully retroactive is because doing so will not be any kind of windfall for juve murderers given a mandatory LWOP. Rather, as this new New York Times article highlights, all that Miller retroactivity entails is that an offender get a new sentencing hearing in which a judge will consider whether an LWOP sentence was truly justified in light of the nature and circumstances of the offense and the full history and characteristics of the defendant. The article, headlined "A Murderer at 14, Then a Lifer, Now a Man Pondering a Future," merits a full read, and here is a teaser from the start of the piece:
Adolfo Davis admits he was a swaggering thug by the age of 14 as he roamed and dealt drugs with a South Side gang.
He also describes a childhood of emotional and physical deprivation: a mother fixated on crack, an absent father, a grandmother’s overflowing and chaotic apartment.
From the age of 6 or 7, he often had to buy his own food or go hungry, so he collected cans, pumped gas for tips and shoplifted. At 10, he went to juvenile hall for wresting $3 worth of food stamps and 75 cents from a girl. At 12, he fell in with the Gangster Disciples. “I loved them, they protected me, they were my family,” Mr. Davis said in a recent interview.
At 14, in 1990, he was out with two gang members when they robbed a rival drug house and shot the occupants, leaving two dead. Now 38, he has spent the last 24 years in prison on a mandatory sentence of life without parole.
But his future will be reconsidered in a new sentencing hearing here on Monday. It is one of the first such proceedings in Illinois to result from the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Miller v. Alabama that juvenile murderers should not be subject to mandatory life without parole....
The 2012 decision did not say whether the new rules should apply retroactively, to cases long closed. Since then, state and lower federal courts have disagreed, creating drastic differences for prisoners depending on where they live.
Ten states, including Illinois, are applying the standard to pre2012 cases and have started the process of resentencing. Four states — Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, with about 1,130 prisoners who could be affected — have declined to make the ruling retroactive. The Supreme Court is expected to clarify the issue next fall, when it hears the appeal of a convict in Louisiana....
Here and around the country, victim rights groups have strongly opposed the reopening of past sentences. “The families of the victims will suffer the most,” said Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, a cofounder and board member of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers.
She became a champion of victim rights 25 years ago when her pregnant sister and her sister’s husband were murdered in Winnetka, Ill., by a 16-year-old who received a mandatory life sentence. “When I started thinking of the possibility that we’d have to go back to court, I couldn’t sleep for four months,” she said. “Our mother was devastated.”
A new sentencing hearing in that case is scheduled for this month. While Ms. Bishop-Jenkins feels confident that the killer, because of the particulars of his acts, will have the life sentence renewed, she noted that the transcript of his original sentencing hearing was missing and that key witnesses were dead or gone.
Recreating a fair sentencing process is often impossible in old cases, she said, and there are ample existing ways to pursue what seem to be unwarranted life sentences, such as executive clemency or other petitions.
Mr. Davis’s supporters said they had not been able to find any relatives of the two murder victims in his case; none have come forward to comment on his resentencing....
Before the hearing on Monday, Mr. Davis’s lawyers — Patricia Soung of the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and Rachel Steinback, a lawyer with the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy in Chicago — prepared a sentencing memo calling for his release because of his remorse, his growth and his mentoring of others while in prison.
The Cook County prosecutors have not prepared a written statement, but they are expected to argue for a new life sentence. Opposing the 2012 clemency bid, the prosecutors said young Adolfo had been “an active and willing participant in the murders” and “was not simply a naïve child being led astray by older friends.”...
The two sides will present their cases orally before Judge Angela Petrone of the Cook County Circuit Court. During or after the hearing, the judge could order anything from a new life term to an immediate release for time served.
April 12, 2015 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Friday, April 10, 2015
Controversy surrounding California judge who sentenced 19-year-old child rapist way below mandatory minimum 25-year-term
As reported in this lengthy CNN piece, headlined "California judge faces recall try over sentence in child rape case," a judge's decision to impose only a 10-year prison term on a child rapist is causing a big stir in Los Angeles. Here are some of the details:
Three county supervisors in California announced Thursday a campaign to recall a judge who sentenced a man to 10 years in prison -- instead of the state mandatory minimum of 25 years -- for sodomizing a 3-year-old girl who is a relative.
At the center of the controversy is Orange County Judge M. Marc Kelly who, according to transcripts of a February court proceeding, was moved by the plea for leniency by the mother of the defendant. The judge expressed "some real concerns" about the state's minimum sentence of 25 years to life in prison for a child sodomy conviction and about "whether or not the punishment is disproportionate to the defendant's individual culpability in this particular case," according to a transcript of the February proceeding.
"I have not done this before, but I have concerns regarding or not this punishment as prescribed would fall into the arena of cruel and unusual punishment and have constitutional ramifications under the Eighth Amendment," the judge said in February, according to the transcript. "I know this is a very rare situation. It doesn't come up very often."... [An] account of [the April 3] sentencing quoted the judge as saying the mandatory sentence would be appropriate in most circumstances, but "in looking at the facts of ... (the) case, the manner in which this offense was committed is not typical of a predatory, violent brutal sodomy of a child case," Kelly said. The judge noted that the defendant "almost immediately" stopped and "realized the wrongfulness of his act," according to the newspaper.
"Although serious and despicable, this does not compare to a situation where a pedophilic child predator preys on an innocent child," the judge said, according to the newspaper. "There was no violence or callous disregard for (the victim's) well-being."
Three Orange County supervisors held a press conference Thursday to announce the campaign to collect 90,829 signatures needed to hold a recall election of Kelly. They were Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Spitzer, County Supervisor and Vice Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett and Supervisor Shawn Nelson. ...
Spitzer said he was responding to "a huge community outcry" against the judge's sentence and his comments from the bench. "We as a community spoke on behalf of the victim today, the 3-year-old child," Spitzer said. "If it was a stranger, the mom would have thrown the book at the guy. The family cares about the perpetrator. It's a family member," Spitzer said. "The victim is related to the perpetrator, and that is what is so difficult here."
But Spitzer said the judge didn't follow state law. "We don't want a judge that legislates from the bench," Spitzer said. "It's just unfathomable that the judge would try to describe what is a brutal sodomy," Spitzer added. "Sodomy of a 3-year-old child is a brutal, violent act in itself."...
Orange County District Tony Rackauckas has called the sentence "illegal," and his office will appeal it, said his chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder. "We believe that his decision, his sentencing was illegal because there was a mandatory minimum set up by statute by the legislature," Schroeder said. "We're doing what the people of Orange County have asked us to do. We're going to fight through the courts."...
The June crime occurred in the garage of the family home in Santa Ana, where the defendant, then 19, was playing video games, prosecutors said. CNN is not identifying any family members so the victim can remain anonymous. The defendant also made the victim touch his penis, and he covered the girl's mouth while the mother called out to her, prosecutors said....
"As a 19-year-old, defendant appears to be mentally immature and sexually inexperienced. It is difficult to explain away defendant's actions, however, as sexual frustration," prosecutors said in court papers. "All things considered, defendant appeared to be a relatively normal 19-year-old, aside from the crime of which he is convicted." But the defendant "poses a great danger to society and probably will for the majority of his life," prosecutors added.
During the February court proceeding, a statement by the mother was read aloud to the court by her husband, according to the transcript. "While a mother's love is nothing less than unconditional, I am clearly aware of the gravity of my son's actions and the inevitable discipline that he must now confront," the mother's statement said. "It has been not only extremely difficult, but utterly devastating for me and my family to fully come to terms with the events that took place."
The mother said she hadn't had the strength or courage yet "to directly talk" to her son about the crime, but she said her son "has allowed God into his heart and has committed himself to God's guidance." Her son "is not a bad person," and she asked for forgiveness for his "transgressions and for the opportunity to have a second chance at liberty," the husband told the judge, summarizing his wife's statement.
The judge remarked about the rarity of the mother's plea. "I have never had a situation before like this where a mother is the mother of the victim of the crime and the mother of the defendant who was convicted of the crime," the judge said. "It's very rare in these situations. So I know it must be very difficult for you."
Defense attorney Erfan Puthawala said his client never denied his responsibility "for the heinous act he committed" and, in fact, cooperated with investigators. "He made a statement essentially incriminating himself, which he did not have to do," the attorney said.
"He expressed remorse for the actions he took and the mistake he made. He understands that a momentary lapse has had lifelong ramifications for his sister the victim, for his family, and for himself," Puthawala added. "It is important to note that (my client) is not a pedophile, he is not a sexual deviant, he is not a sexually violent predator, and he poses a low risk of recidivism." Those findings came from an independently appointed psychologist who wrote a report to assist the judge in sentencing, Puthawala said.
Intriguingly, the judge at the center of this controversial sentencing was a senior local prosecutors for more than a decade before he became a member of the state judiciary. Perhaps because of that history, this judge perhaps though the prosecutor who charged this case likely had some discretion not to charge an offense that carried a 25-year mandatory minimum and thus perhaps he thought he should have some discretion not to sentence based on the mandatory minimum. Based on this case description, too, I wonder if this judge found that some of the Eighth Amendment themes stressed by the Supreme Court in Graham and Miller had some applicability in this setting because the defendant was only 19.
April 10, 2015 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Tuesday, April 07, 2015
"Miller V. Alabama and the Retroactivity of Proportionality Rules"
The title of this post is the title of this very timely new article by Perry Moriearty just now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In its 2012 decision in the companion cases of Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, the Supreme Court declared that it was unconstitutional to sentence children to mandatory life without parole because such sentences preclude an individualized consideration of a defendant’s age and other mitigating factors. What Miller did not address, however, and what has confounded lower courts over the last two years, is whether the ruling applies to the more than 2,100 inmates whose convictions were already final when Miller was decided. In all but one case, the question has come down to an exercise in line drawing. If, under the Court’s elusive Teague retroactivity doctrine, Miller articulated a “substantive” rule of constitutional law, it is retroactive; if the rule is merely “procedural,” it is not. The Supreme Court is all but certain to decide the issue in the near future.
I make two primary arguments in this Article. The first adds to the growing body of commentary concluding that, while Miller has “procedural” attributes, they are components of a constitutional mandate that is fundamentally “substantive.” The second argument applies broadly to all new constitutional rules which, like the Miller rule, are grounded in the Eighth Amendment’s proportionality guarantee. As even those who favor of limitations on retroactivity have acknowledged, there is a normative point at which interests in “finality” simply must yield to competing notions of justice and equality. I argue that finality interests may be at their weakest when the Court announces a new proportionality rule, because the practical burdens of review and theoretical concerns about undermining the consequentialist goals of punishment are simply not as pronounced with sentences of incarceration as they are with convictions. The risks of offending basic notions of “justice” may be at their most pronounced with new proportionality rules, however, because to deny relief to those whose sentences have been deemed “excessive” (or at a high risk of excessiveness) is to undermine the very principles of proportionality and fundamental fairness in which such rules are grounded. Proportionality rules should therefore be afforded something close to a presumption of retroactivity.
Regular readers and SCOTUS fans know this article is timely because the Supreme Court has recently taken up a new case to finally resolve the lower court split over Miller's retroactivity. But I call this piece very timely because this very afternoon I am in Cambridge to talk about these exact issues with Judge Nancy Gertner's Harvard Law School sentencing class. Coincidence?
Thursday, March 26, 2015
"Mandating Discretion: Juvenile Sentencing Schemes after Miller v. Alabama"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new and timely paper available via SSRN authored by Jennifer Breen and John Mills. Here is the abstract:
Miller v. Alabama established that “children are different” and it required profound changes in the way states adjudicate juveniles within the criminal justice system. This Article moves beyond standard interpretations of this significant decision and argues that Miller requires much more than abolition of mandatory juvenile life-without-parole sentences. In addition to that sentence-specific ban, Miller establishes a right for juveniles to have their young age taken into consideration during sentencing.
This holding demands individualized consideration of a child’s age at sentencing, akin to sentencing procedures demanded by the Court in death penalty cases. At the very least, it is clear that states may no longer treat a juvenile defendant as an adult without any opportunity to consider the impact of youth upon the defendant. Yet this Article identifies eighteen states that continue to utilize these now unconstitutional sentencing schemes, contravening the most basic holding of the Court in Miller: “[C]hildren are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.”
After contextualizing both the Miller decision and the process of transferring juveniles to adult court, this Article identifies a subset of states that fail to allow for consideration of the unique qualities of youth at any stage of the juvenile adjudication process. These states are outliers and defy both the national consensus on juvenile adjudication and the Court’s mandate in Miller. This Article concludes by proposing reforms to aid states in accommodating the implications of Miller while increasing reliability in juvenile sentencing.
March 26, 2015 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Monday, March 23, 2015
The extra state habeas question (and its answer?) in Montgomery, the new SCOTUS Miller retroactivity case
Notably, the Supreme Court's cert grant in in another Miller retroactivity case from Louisiana (basics here) included some extra homework for the parties:
14-280 MONTGOMERY, HENRY V. LOUISIANA
The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question: “Do we have jurisdiction to decide whether the Supreme Court of Louisiana correctly refused to give retroactive effect in this case to our decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U. S. __ (2012)?"
This added question in Montgomery echoes an issue that the Justices had sought to consider in the prior Toca case, and I think it reflects the thought of some Justices that state courts on state habeas review may not be constitutionally required to apply the modern Teague jurisprudence that federal courts now use in federal habeas review of final state convictions. If state courts are not required to follow at least the Teague standard, arguably there is not a federal question presented by whether and how a state court applies Teague in a state habeas case.
Notably, in a case from 2008, Danforth v. Minnesota, 552 U.S. 264, 266 (2008), the Supreme Court held that states were permitted to give greater retroactive effect to new federal constitutional procedural rules that did not satisfy a Teague exception. Thus is it already clear that state courts can give state prisoners in state habeas cases more retroactive benefits than Teague requires. The added Montgomery question essentially asks whether a federal issue is presented if state courts decide to give state prisoners in state habeas cases less retroactive benefits than Teague requires.
In some sense from the prisoner's perspective, this second question is kind of an academic exercise: even if the Supreme Court were to decide that it lacks jurisdiction to review whether and how a state court applies Teague in a state habeas case, it is clear that lower federal courts (and the US Supreme Court) have jurisdiction and will apply Teague if and when the state prisoner brings a federal habeas case. But, then again, this is not an entirely academic exercise because there could be cases in which the state prisoner is not able to bring a federal habeas case (perhaps because of statutory or other problems with bringing such a case).
If this discussion already makes your head hurt and leads you to think you need to take a law school Federal Courts class again, join the club. Fortunately for all of us, a very insightful Assistant U.S. Attorney, Steven G. Sanders, published last month a great New Jersey Law Journal article about all this titled "Can US Supreme Court Require States to Apply New Fed Rules Retroactively on State Collateral Attack?". Thanks to Steven and the NJLJ, I can provide this article in full linked below with this disclaimer: “Reprinted with permission from the February 9, 2015 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal. © 2015 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.”
March 23, 2015 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Supreme Court takes up a replacement juve LWOP retroactivity case from Louisiana
As reported in this AP piece, the US Supreme Court this morning found a replacement for the prior resolved case (Toca) dealing with the retroactivity of its 2012 Miller decision. Here are the basics:
The Supreme Court is adding a new case to decide whether its 3-year-old ruling throwing out mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles should apply to older cases. The court was scheduled to hear arguments in a case from Louisiana in late March, but the state released inmate George Toca after 30 years in prison.
The justices on Monday said they would consider a new Louisiana case involving a man who has been held since 1963 for killing a sheriff's deputy in Baton Rouge. Henry Montgomery was a 17-year-old 10th grader who was playing hooky from school when he shot Deputy Charles Hurt at a park near the city's airport. The officer and his partner were looking to round up truants.
The case will be argued in the fall.... The case is Montgomery v. Louisiana, 14-280.
Some SCOTUS-related posts on the prior Toca case and Miller retroactivity:
- Supreme Court grants cert to (finally!?!) resolve whether Miller applies retroactively
- George Toca now a free man ... and SCOTUS now lacks a live Miller retroactivity case
- The back-story of George Toca's case (and its impact on other juve LWOPers)
- "Elevating Substance Over Procedure: The Retroactivity of Miller v. Alabama Under Teague v. Lane"
- Examining "sentence finality" at length in new article and series of posts
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Florida Supreme Court decides unanimously that Miller applies retroactively to all mandatory juve LWOP sentences
As reported in this local piece, the "Florida Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that all of the state’s juvenile killers who received automatic sentences of life in prison must be resentenced under a law passed in 2014." Here is more:
The long-awaited ruling answers the question of whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, which effectively banned automatic life sentences for juvenile killers, applies retroactively. An estimated 250 state prisoners, 17 of them from Lee and Collier counties, are serving life sentences for murders committed before they turned 18.
Under Florida’s 2014 law, passed to conform with the U.S. Supreme Court decision, only juveniles who committed homicides after July 2014 were subject to a revised sentencing structure, which required a judge to consider several factors before determining a prison term. For about 20 years before the law’s passage, Florida mandated a life sentence for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.
Since the state’s law was passed, Florida trial and appeal courts have grappled with whether juveniles who killed before July 2014 and received automatic life sentences should also receive the same consideration. After the state’s five appeals courts gave conflicting opinions, the Florida Supreme Court weighed in Thursday.
The seven justices found that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban “constitutes a development of fundamental significance,” the standard used to determine whether changes to Florida law apply retroactively. “The patent unfairness of depriving indistinguishable juvenile offenders of their liberty for the rest of their lives, based solely on when their cases were decided, weighs heavily in favor of applying the (U.S.) Supreme Court’s decision in Miller retroactively,” Justice Barbara J. Pariente wrote in the opinion....
Under Florida’s new law, juveniles can still receive life behind bars. That sentence, however, must be made after a judge considers several factors, including the juvenile’s personal background, maturity and criminal history. At a minimum, a juvenile convicted of first-degree murder who committed the homicide must receive 40 years in prison.
The full ruling in Falcon v. Florida, No. SC13-865 (Fla. March 19, 2015), is available at this link.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
"Trial Defense Guidelines: Representing a Child Client Facing a Possible Life Sentence"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new report/guidelines from The Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth . As this webpage notes, these new guidelines draw from the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases in the capital context and the NJDC National Juvenile Defense standards in the juvenile court context. Here is the introduction to the report/guidelines:
The objective of these guidelines is to set forth a national standard of practice to ensure zealous, constitutionally effective representation for all juveniles facing a possible life sentence (“juvenile life”) consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 2469 (2012) that trial proceedings “take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing [children] to a lifetime in prison.”
The representation of children in adult court facing a possible life sentence is a highly specialized area of legal practice, therefore these guidelines address the unique considerations specific to the provision of a zealous trial defense. These guidelines set forth the roles and responsibilities of the defense team for the duration of a trial proceeding and outline child-specific considerations relevant to pre-trial, trial, and sentencing representation. Direct appeal and collateral review are not explicitly addressed in these guidelines.
These guidelines are premised on the following foundational principles:
children are constitutionally and developmentally different from adults;
children, by reason of their physical and mental immaturity, need special safeguards and care;
children must not be defined by a single act;
juvenile life defense is a highly specialized legal practice, encompassing the representation of children in adult court as well as the investigation and presentation of mitigation;
juvenile life defense requires a qualified team trained in adolescent development;
juvenile life defense requires communicating with clients in a trauma-informed, culturally competent, developmentally and age-appropriate manner;
juvenile life defense is based on the client’s expressed interests, informed by meaningful and competent child client participation;
juvenile life defense counsel must ensure that child clients and their families are treated with dignity and respect;
juvenile life defense counsel must ensure that victims’ families are treated with dignity and respect;
juvenile life defense counsel must litigate for a presumption against life sentences for children; and
juvenile life defense counsel must litigate to ensure a meaningful individualized sentencing determination, in which defense counsel is able to fully and effectively present mitigation to the court.
Monday, March 09, 2015
Profile of one (of thousands) of the juve LWOP stories full of post-Miller uncertainty
Thanks to How Appealing, I saw this interesting article from North Carolina about the history of an offender long serving an LWOP sentence for a juvenile murder who still awaits resolution of whether he can benefit from the Supreme Court's work three years ago in Miller v. Alabama. The piece is headlined "Convicted of murder at 16, Anthony Willis is hoping a Supreme Court decision will overturn his sentence," and merits a full read for those following post-Miller developments closely. Here is an excerpt from the lengthy piece:
[I]f nothing else, prison gives a man time to reflect. Willis slowly came to realize — even though he was expected to die behind bars — that he needed his life to matter. The best way to do that, he decided, was to lean on God and to educate himself. After earning his GED, Willis began taking anger- and stress-management classes and attending prison fellowship seminars.
He earned back-to-back-to-back associate degrees from Western Piedmont Community College and a bachelor's degree from California Coast University. His mother attended his graduation ceremony for his first associate degree. "That's my baby," Brenda Willis yelled as Willis walked down the aisle. She was so proud of her son.
That's a big part of Willis' motivation today. He wants his mother to know that his actions as a teenager were never her fault.... Now 35, his appearance and demeanor are nothing like one might expect from a man who has spent slightly more than half his life in prison. Most of the other prisoners call him Smiley, a nickname that has transferred with him from prison to prison.
Thin, polite, boyish and articulate, Willis seems to have been transformed by prison into a man who has gained respect by learning to stop following the herd. Willis said he has found comfort in the Lord and teaches those virtues to other prisoners. He said he regularly leads prison fellowship seminars and takes pride in his role as a mentor and recreational leader. Willis said he often counsels new prisoners almost as soon as they get off the bus. Most mistake his optimism for someone who is about to get released — anyone but a lifer....
Willis acknowledges that serving a life sentence isn't easy. "It's hard to hold onto hope in here," he said. "It's like holding onto a ledge by your fingertips." But he endures the best he can, buoyed by his faith, his new-found purpose in life and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling called Miller vs. Alabama.
On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life in prison without parole for people who committed murder as juveniles constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling effectively struck down laws in 28 states, including North Carolina....
The court did not bar mandatory life sentences without parole in all juvenile homicide cases. It said lower courts could impose such a sentence only after examining mitigating factors, including family environment, the circumstances of the offense and the possibility of rehabilitation. But the court didn't make its order retroactive, so it does not apply to Willis and 87 other murderers convicted as juveniles and now serving life sentences in North Carolina.
In December, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the Miller ruling should be made retroactive in a Louisiana murder. But the case was resolved at the state level, leaving no issue for the federal court to hear. So making Miller retroactive remains in limbo, at least in North Carolina.
Less than two weeks after the Miller ruling, North Carolina's General Assembly responded by approving a law that requires a parole review after a juvenile murderer has spent a minimum of 25 years in prison. But again, the law applies only to sentences handed down after the Miller ruling. Courts in at least nine states — including South Carolina — have ruled that the ruling will be applied retroactively. Five other states have ruled that the decision is not retroactive. North Carolina's appellate courts continue to consider the issue.
Friday, March 06, 2015
Fourth Circuit holds that Miller is not retroactive on collateral review under Teague
Like many who follow Eighth Amendment jurisprudence or care about juvenile justice, I had been hopeful that the Supreme Court was finally going to resolve this Term whether its Miller ruling barring mandatory LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders was to be applied retroactively. But Toca, the case on which cert had been granted a few months ago, got resolved on other grounds and now lower court rulings continue to be central to this issue for the time being. Consequently, I am grateful to a reader who alerted me that the Fourth Circuit yesterday, in Johnson v. Ponton, No. 13-7824 (4th Cir. March 5, 2015) (available here), formally addressed this matter. Here is how the panel's unanimous opinion starts and winds down:
Petitioner-Appellant Shermaine Ali Johnson appeals the district court’s dismissal of his habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his sentence of life imprisonment without parole. He argues that the rule announced in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), is retroactively applicable to him on collateral review. Miller held that imposing mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders -- i.e., imposing that sentence without any individualized consideration of their status as juveniles -- violates the Eighth Amendment. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the Miller rule is not retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review. We therefore affirm....
We therefore hold that the Supreme Court has not held the Miller rule retroactively applicable, and that the Court’s holdings do not dictate retroactivity because the rule is neither substantive nor a watershed rule of criminal procedure. In so deciding, we join the Eleventh Circuit. We also note that our holding is consistent with that of the only other circuit court panel to have answered the question of Miller’s retroactivity. See Craig v. Cain, No. 12-30035, 2013 WL 69128 (5th Cir. Jan. 4, 2013) (per curiam) (unpublished).
Friday, February 27, 2015
Split Connecticut Supreme Court works through Miller application issues
As reported in this local AP piece, headlined "Connecticut court tosses 100-year sentence imposed on teen," the top court in the Nutmeg State issued a notable and significant ruling on juvenile sentencing in the wake of recent SCOTUS Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. Here are the basics:
The Connecticut Supreme Court on Friday overturned a 100-year prison sentence that was imposed on a Hartford teenager in a murder case, saying juveniles cannot be treated the same as adults when being sentenced for violent crimes.
In a 5-2 ruling, justices ordered a new sentencing hearing for Ackeem Riley, who was 17 in November 2006 when he sprayed gunfire into a Hartford crowd from a passing car. Three bystanders were shot, including 16-year-old honor student Tray Davis, who died....
The Miller decision was one of three U.S. Supreme Court rulings since 2005 that “fundamentally altered the legal landscape for the sentencing of juvenile offenders to comport with the ban on cruel and unusual punishment,” Connecticut Justice Andrew McDonald wrote in the majority decision. The rulings also barred capital punishment for all juvenile offenders and prohibited life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juveniles in non-homicide cases.
McDonald wrote in Friday’s ruling, which overturned a state Appellate Court decision, that it didn’t appear trial Judge Thomas V. O’Keefe Jr. adequately considered Riley’s age at the time of the shooting. “The court made no mention of facts in the presentence report that might reflect immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” McDonald wrote. “In the entire sentencing proceeding, only defense counsel made an oblique reference to age.”
Justices Carmen Espinoza and Peter Zarella dissented....
State lawmakers are now considering a bill that would revamp Connecticut’s juvenile sentencing rules to conform to the U.S. Supreme court rulings. A similar measure failed last year. There are about 50 Connecticut prisoners serving sentences of 50 or more years for crimes committed when they were under 18, and most are not eligible for parole. Defense lawyers say they expect more appeals involving the juvenile sentencing issue.
The extended majority ruling in Connecticut v. Riley is available at this link, and it gets started with these passages:
The defendant, Ackeem Riley, was seventeen years old when he committed homicide and nonhomicide offenses for which the trial court imposed, in the exercise of its discretion, a total effective sentence of 100 years imprisonment. The defendant has no possibility of parole before his natural life expires. In his certified appeal to this court, the defendant claims that his sentence and the procedures under which it was imposed violate Graham and Miller, and, hence, the eighth amendment....
We agree with the defendant’s Miller claim. Therefore, he is entitled to a new sentencing proceeding at which the court must consider as mitigation the defendant’s age at the time he committed the offenses and the hallmarks of adolescence that Miller deemed constitutionally significant when a juvenile offenderis subject to a potential life sentence. We decline, however, to address the defendant’s Graham claim. As we explain later in this opinion, the legislature has received a sentencing commission’s recommendations for reforms to our juvenile sentencing scheme to respond to the dictates of Graham and Miller. Therefore, in deference to the legislature’s authority over such matters and in light of the uncertainty of the defendant’s sentence upon due consideration of the Miller factors, we conclude that it is premature to determine whether it would violate the eighth amendment to preclude any possibility of release when a juvenile offender receives a life sentence.
The dissenting Riley opinion is available at this link, and it starts this way:
I disagree with the majority’s conclusion that the total effective sentence of 100 years imprisonment imposed by the trial court on the defendant, Ackeem Riley, violates the eighth amendment to the United States constitution. I agree with the Appellate Court’s conclusion that, "[b]ecause the court exercised discretion in fashioning the defendant’s sentence, and was free to consider any mitigating evidence the defendant was able to marshal, including evidence pertaining to his age and maturity"; State v. Riley, 140 Conn. App. 1, 4, 58 A.3d 304 (2013); the sentence complied with the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407 (2012), which held that "the [e]ighth [a]mendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders." (Emphasis added.) Id., 2469. To be clear, therefore, Miller applies only to mandatory sentencing schemes. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.
February 27, 2015 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
"Eighth Amendment Presumptions: A Constitutional Framework for Curbing Mass Incarceration"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by William Berry II now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The Supreme Court’s conceptualization of the Eighth Amendment over the past decade has focused on narrow exceptions to the ability of the states to punish criminal offenders, excising particular punishments based on characteristics of the offender or crime. What is missing, however, is a set of broader guiding principles delineating the line between acceptable and impermissible punishments. The Court itself, in Kennedy v. Louisiana, acknowledged as much, describing the case law as “still in search of a unifying principle.” In light of this vacuum, this article proposes a new approach to the application of the Eighth Amendment.
The absence of regulation of excessive and disproportionate punishments by state legislatures over the past two decades has resulted in the largest prison population in the history of the human race. Instead of merely being a tool that merely removes a few types of offenses and offenders from the purview of state legislatures, the Eighth Amendment should also serve as a more robust guide to shape state penal practices.
To that end, this Article argues for the development of a series of Eighth Amendment presumptions — guiding principles that would govern the punishment practices of legislatures without excluding them from the conversation. Currently, the Eighth Amendment serves to identify the constitutional “exceptions” to the “rules” promulgated by the legislatures. This Article’s approach would reverse that status quo, with the Court articulating general rules and the legislatures then developing (and justifying through careful study) the exceptions to the rules. Indeed, an examination of the Court’s Eighth Amendment cases suggests this “presumptive” sentiment is already implicit in much of the thinking of the Court.
Part I of the Article briefly explains the shortcomings of the current evolving standards of decency doctrine and its devastating consequences. Part II of the Article explores the concept of presumptions, exploring how presumptions operate and demonstrating their virtues. The Article then argues in Part III for the reimagining of the Eighth Amendment as an Amendment of constitutional presumptions combining elements from the Court’s past cases with the needs arising from three decades of neglecting the decisions of legislatures. Finally, Part IV demonstrates how this conceptual framework would work in practice.
February 25, 2015 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Thursday, February 19, 2015
The back-story of George Toca's case (and its impact on other juve LWOPers)
This new Bloomberg article authored by by Matt Stroud provides an interesting account of the stories behind what was, until it was settled a few weeks ago, the case the Supreme Court had planned to use to resolve the retroactive application of its Miller Eighth Amendment ruling. The piece is headlined "Prisoners Sentenced to Life as Kids Just Lost Their Best Chance for Freedom: How the criminal justice system failed George Toca — and 1,500 others like him," and it is a must-read and a must-watch based on the video linked to the story. Here are excerpts:
In 1984, when Toca was 17, he was charged with accidentally shooting and killing his best friend, Eric Batiste, during a failed carjacking. Victims picked him out of lineups, despite initial statements to police describing an older, heavier shooter who was at least five inches taller than Toca and who did not have four gleaming gold caps on his top front teeth.
Largely on the basis of eyewitness testimony, Toca was convicted of second-degree murder in 1985 and given a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. He has spent most of the last 31 years in Louisiana’s notorious Angola state penitentiary....
Toca has had an interesting winter. In addition to denying responsibility for his friend’s killing — and working with lawyers at the Innocence Project New Orleans since 2003 to prove his case — Toca appealed to be resentenced based on his age at the time of the alleged crime. The U.S. Supreme Court selects less than 2 percent of the cases presented to it. In December, it agreed to hear Toca’s appeal....
[I]n 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, the court ruled that a mandatory sentence of life without parole, handed down in 29 states’ murder cases as well as those in federal court, is unconstitutional for offenders younger than 18. The decision left a question on the table: What about those who had already been convicted? Should they be resentenced?
Some states have said that all juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole should have a new sentencing hearing. Others — Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota — have decided against retroactivity. The exact numbers are in dispute, but according to figures from Human Rights Watch and estimates from the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, that means about 1,500 sentences nationwide hang in the balance. By agreeing to hear and decide Toca’s appeal, the Supreme Court planned to end the uncertainty of those cases.
But in the weeks after the court agreed to hear the case, Toca was approached by Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro with a tempting offer. Toca had long maintained his innocence in the shooting, but now the D.A. had a deal for him. If he signed a plea agreement admitting to armed robbery, Cannizzaro would drop the original conviction and Toca would be paroled immediately....
Since he agreed to a plea deal, though, the Supreme Court dismissed his case and he is no longer standing in for 1,500 juvenile lifers like him in front of the nation’s highest court.
For those who believe juveniles sentenced to life behind bars should be forced to spend their lives there, Toca’s release is actually good news. “This shows me that the system works,” said Bobbi Jamriska, whose pregnant sister was brutally beaten and stabbed to death in 1993 by a 16-year-old in suburban Pittsburgh. “They went back and they questioned his case and raised their concerns, and [Toca] ended up being let out of jail.”
Jamriska has fought hard to keep both the death penalty and life without parole on the table for juvenile offenders. As Pennsylvania director of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers, she said her organization didn’t want Toca’s case in front of the Supreme Court anyway. His case is “an extreme,” she said. “Even the victim’s family is saying, ‘Get him out of jail,’ ” Jamriska said. “We’d prefer to have a case that’s more representative of some of the horrific crimes juveniles commit.”...
Will the Supreme Court [take up] another [case]? Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, believes it will. At least five cases —three in Louisiana, two in Michigan — have been sent for Supreme Court review and could replace Toca’s, but not until the next term at the earliest. That's in October.
Levick doesn’t blame Toca for his decision. “First and foremost, good for him,” she said. “I don’t think anybody who has been waiting for the retroactivity issue to be ruled upon would in any way question the decision that George Toca made. How could he not walk out of prison after 30 years?” For the other juvenile lifers nationwide, “obviously it was disappointing,” she said. “They’re still waiting, just as they have been for 30, 40, 50 years. And they think it’s time for them to get out as well.”
Toca hopes they do, too. Sitting outside with the sun shining above him, he looked down and offered an apology. “I know they was really relying on my case to get the retroactivity of the Miller case resolved,” he said. “All I can say is, I’m sorry that I let ’em down. This was all I could do.”
Sunday, February 15, 2015
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by William Berry III now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Given the Supreme Court’s recent foray into applying the Eighth Amendment to non-capital cases combined with its long history of applying procedural restrictions at sentencing in death cases, this Article argues for the application of procedural due process principles to criminal sentencing under the Eighth Amendment. Specifically, the Article develops the concept of procedural proportionality, which contemplates a relationship between the extent of the deprivation and the amount of procedure required.
Part I of the Article explains the procedural components of the cruel and unusual punishment clause and explores the expansion of these principles to non-capital cases. Part II of the Article articulates the theory of procedural proportionality, describing the procedural rights needed at sentencing and outlining a sliding scale for its application.
Monday, January 19, 2015
"Graham's Gatekeeper and Beyond: Juvenile Sentencing and Release Reform in the Wake of Graham and Miller"
The title of this post is the title of this timely and important new article by Megan Annitto now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court imposed limits on the use of the life sentences for juveniles. The decisions require states and the federal government to craft new procedures when and if courts levy life and lengthy sentences upon juveniles. But the Court’s decisions are not self-actualizing and there is little within them that creates a bright line about the substance or procedures states should follow. This article focuses on three of the questions that states face in the implementation of the Court’s decisions. First, who is the best gatekeeper for the release of these offenders on the back end of sentencing — the judiciary, parole boards, or something new? Second, what procedural and substantive guidance should states provide for these chosen gatekeepers? And, finally, what role will modern risk assessment tools play in this decision making?
The answers to these questions must fairly balance public safety with the possibility of redemption the Court recognized is inherent in childhood. They will also affect the public’s perception of legitimacy in the release process. State and the federal government answers to those questions are even more pressing given the applicability of Graham’s rationale to a larger category of offenders — the American Bar Association and American Law Institute both recommend the creation of some form of sentencing review for all juveniles sentenced under an adult regime.
Despite the importance of these questions, in the early aftermath of the Court’s opinions, legislative and judicial attention has primarily focused on issues related to the length of sentences that should be alternatives to life terms, the time at which review should occur when life sentences are imposed, and retroactivity. But some pioneering states have passed legislation tinkering with broader reform and legislatures are rapidly taking up the issues presented. Some courts have broadened the reach of Graham and Miller, striking down juvenile life without parole altogether. But many legislatures are embattled over decisions about whether to enact only the perceived minimal requirements of Graham and Miller or whether to extend the Court’s reasoning to broader release policies affording back end sentencing review at reasonable time periods. Choices that provide for expanded but careful opportunities for relief can counterweigh some of the harsh results of juvenile transfer laws that have brought, and continue to bring, increasing numbers of juveniles under the rubric of adult sentencing schemes in ways that were not necessarily intentional or desirable. The Article discusses the implications of the chosen gatekeeper for release and discusses the accompanying procedural and substantive considerations that states and the federal government should consider upon implementation.
Friday, December 12, 2014
Supreme Court grants cert to (finally!?!) resolve whether Miller applies retroactively
The Supreme Court, as revealed by this order list, finally appears set to resolve an issue that it has been avoiding for a few years as lower courts have split over implementing its Eighth Amendment work in Miller v. Alabama. Here is the basic news as set out in the order list:
TOCA, GEORGE V. LOUISIANA
The motion of petitioner for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted. The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted limited to the following questions: 1) Does the rule announced in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U. S. ____ (2012), apply retroactively to this case? 2) Is a federal question raised by a claim that a state collateral review court erroneously failed to find a Teague exception?
December 12, 2014 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Sunday, November 30, 2014
"The Retroactivity of Substantive Rules to Cases on Collateral Review and the AEDPA, with a Special Focus on Miller v. Alabama"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper on SSRN authored by Jason Zarrow and William Milliken. Here is the abstract:
Teague v. Lane established a general bar on the retroactive application of criminal rules in habeas proceedings. Substantive rules, however, are not subject to that bar. In this Article, we consider whether a habeas petitioner may retroactively invoke a substantive rule notwithstanding 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), a provision of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act that precludes federal courts from granting habeas relief to state prisoners unless the state-court adjudication was contrary to “clearly established Federal law.”
We answer this question through the lens of the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, holding that sentencing schemes mandating life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. By tracing the Court’s jurisprudence on substantive rules to its historical roots, we conclude that Miller, while not substantive in toto, contains a substantive component, and that § 2254(d)(1) does not bar habeas petitioners from relying on substantive rules announced after their convictions become final.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Split South Carolina Supreme Court declares Miller retroactive AND applicable to state's nonmandatory LWOP sentencing scheme
As reported in this local article, "at least 15 South Carolina felons serving life sentences for homicides they committed while they were minors are eligible to return to court to be resentenced for their crimes, a divided S.C. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday." Here are the basics of the ruling:
The 3-2 decision cites the U.S. Supreme Court's 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, which banned mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole in instances where juveniles commit murder....
The [Miller] ruling applied to mandatory sentences and the U.S. Supreme Court justices avoided declaring whether the new standard should be applied retroactively to older cases. South Carolina's high court, however, not only called for a rehearing of older cases but applied the new parameters to all juveniles cases where life sentences were imposed, even when that decision was at a judge's discretion.
Colin Miller, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, and who participated in a moot court dry run of the Supreme Court arguments with attorney John Blume, called the high court's ruling "significant" and a victory for juvenile rights. He said the court went beyond what many observers expected in extending projections to all juveniles facing life without parole. "That was not a foregone conclusion," he said. "Here we have the Supreme Court of South Carolina saying the state will not impose life without parole on a juvenile without looking at the totality of the person in this situation."
I concur with the view of Professor Miller that this new South Carolina Supreme Court ruling in Aiken v. Byars, No. 27465 (S.C. Nov. 12, 2014) (available here), is a big win for juvenile justice advocates. Here are a few passages from the majority opinion that lead me to this view:
We conclude Miller creates a new, substantive rule and should therefore apply retroactively. The rule plainly excludes a certain class of defendants — juveniles — from specific punishment — life without parole absent individualized considerations of youth. Failing to apply the Miller rule retroactively risks subjecting defendants to a legally invalid punishment....
We recognize that in holding the Eighth Amendment proscribes a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders, the Court did not expressly extend its ruling to states such as South Carolina whose sentencing scheme permits a life without parole sentence to be imposed on a juvenile offender but does not mandate it. Indeed, the Court noted that because its holding was sufficient to decide the cases before it, consideration of the defendants' alternative argument that the Eighth Amendment requires a categorical bar on life without parole for juveniles was unnecessary. Id. at 2469. However, we must give effect to the proportionality rationale integral to Miller's holding — youth has constitutional significance. As such, it must be afforded adequate weight in sentencing.
Thus, we profoundly disagree with the position advanced by the respondents and the dissent that the import of the Miller decision has no application in South Carolina. Miller is clear that it is the failure of a sentencing court to consider the hallmark features of youth prior to sentencing that offends the Constitution. Contrary to the dissent's interpretation, Miller does more than ban mandatory life sentencing schemes for juveniles; it establishes an affirmative requirement that courts fully explore the impact of the defendant's juvenility on the sentence rendered.
As evidenced by the record, although some of the hearings touch on the issues of youth, none of them approach the sort of hearing envisioned by Miller where the factors of youth are carefully and thoughtfully considered. Many of the attorneys mention age as nothing more than a chronological fact in a vague plea for mercy. Miller holds the Constitution requires more.