Monday, September 09, 2013
"Talking About Cruelty: The Eighth Amendment and Juvenile Offenders after Miller v. Alabama"The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Samuel Pillsbury now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
After setting out the issues and approach of the U.S. Supreme Court majority in Miller v. Alabama, the article develops cruelty as a constitutional norm. Initially cruelty as a norm for Enlightenment thinkers in the late 18th century and in the creation of the American penitentiary in the early nineteenth century is considered. Then the article examines cruelty as a modern norm that condemns both sadism and indifference towards the serious suffering of others. This norm supports the Miller conclusion that mandatory life without chance of parole sentences for certain juvenile offenders are cruel, because such sentences mandate a form of culpable indifference to individual value.
The article then describes how a cruelty norm may guide courts in resolving the constitutionality of a life without chance of parole sentence for juvenile by a judge who had discretion to order a lesser sentence. The cruelty norm described would find unconstitutional a life sentence for a juvenile unless a subsequent opportunity was provided for the offender to seek release based on personal reform. Otherwise, a life sentence would disregard the basic value of the offender in the person that he or she might become.
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
Another effective review of the messy Miller aftermathThis morning's Wall Street Journal has this new article reviewing all the legal uncertainty which persists in state courts more than a year after the Supreme Court's Miller ruling declared unconstitutional mandatory LWOP sentences for juvenile murderers. (Regular readers may recall similar recent AP and Stateline piecesfocused mostly on legislative responses to Miller discussed here and here.) This new WSJ piece is headlined "Courts Split Over Ruling on Juvenile Life Sentence: Confusion on 2012 Decision Creates a Legal Limbo for Inmates, Their Lawyers," and here are excerpts:
Jeffrey Ragland, sentenced to life without parole in 1986 for his involvement in the killing of a fellow teen with a tire-iron blow to the head, could soon be a free man. That outcome is the result of a ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court last month that found the sentence handed down to Mr. Ragland, now 44 years old, unconstitutional. The court concluded that a June 2012 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court outlawing mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles should be applied retroactively, rather than only to future cases.
Other high-level courts, including the Minnesota Supreme Court and the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, have ruled otherwise, finding the Supreme Court's ruling in Miller v. Alabama shouldn't reach backward in time. Inmates challenging their sentences in those cases had their appeals denied.
This schism over the Miller ruling has helped sow deep confusion among inmates, their lawyers, lawmakers and sentencing-policy advocates. More than a year after the high court ruling, many of the approximately 2,100 people sentenced as juveniles to mandatory life-without-parole sentences before June 2012 are being held in a sort of legal limbo — with few answers in sight.
"The situation is an absolute mess," said Wendell Sheffield, a criminal defense lawyer in Birmingham, Ala., who represents a juvenile being held in jail on capital murder charges. "We got an opinion from the highest court in the land, but nobody knows how to implement it."... [S]o far, courts have largely divided over a highly technical question of constitutional law: whether the rule established in Justice Kagan's opinion is "substantive" in nature, and therefore should apply retroactively, or "procedural," which would only alter the method of determining a sentence going forward.
Several Supreme Court rulings in recent years in regard to sentencing, such as the 2002 decision that banned the death penalty for the mentally disabled, were in the former category and applied to sentences already imposed. Justice Kagan's opinion didn't explicitly label the new rule as procedural or substantive....
Advocates for overhauling the juvenile-justice system hailed the Ragland ruling. "An incentive to rehabilitate should be part of most juvenile sentences," said Jody Kent, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. "So often we have no idea what a child is going to be like in 10, 20 or 30 years."
A spokesman for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican whose office had argued against Mr. Ragland's new sentence, said victims "must never be re-victimized and can never be forgotten from the process." It is a concern echoed by other victims' rights supporters, who think renewed parole hearings, with their promise of springing convicted murderers from prison, would open old wounds.
Since the Miller ruling, a handful of the 28 states with mandatory life-without-parole sentences for at least some juveniles have changed their laws. Some, like Delaware and Texas, scrapped the option of such sentences entirely. Others, like Arkansas and Nebraska, still allow judges to impose the sentence, but also let them consider a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
But the majority of states have yet to change their laws, leaving the status of scores of inmates and defendants up in the air. Mr. Sheffield said his client in Alabama is "completely stuck in a holding pattern" until the legislature or the Alabama courts give some clarity. "I think the [U.S.] Supreme Court was hopeful that state legislatures would deal with this fairly quickly," he said. "But they haven't — and it's just adding to the chaos."
I suspect the US Supreme Court will eventually feel compelled to take up the issue of whether and how the Miller ruling is to apply retroactively to long ago final cases. If (and when?) the Justice take up this matter, I think the case could end up being one of the most significant SCOTUS retroactivity decisions since Teague.
A few recent related posts:
- Effective press review of some state responses to SCOTUS Miller ruling
- Terrific Stateline review of states' varied applications of and reactions to Miller
- A year after Miller confirmed kids are different, how may kids have different sentences?
- Iowa Supreme Court rules in favor of juve defendants in three post-Graham appeals
- In lengthy split opinion, Minnesota Supreme Court concludes Miller should not apply retroactively
September 4, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack
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 (12) | TrackBack
Monday, August 26, 2013
Terrific Stateline review of states' varied applications of and reactions to MillerMaggie Clark over at Stateline has this notable new article (and this amazing associated resource) reviewing all the diverse ways states are deal with the Supreme Court's Miller ruling. the piece is headlined "After Supreme Court Ruling, States Act on Juvenile Sentences," and here are excerpts:
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life sentences for offenders under 18 are cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore unconstitutional. In the wake of that decision, a federal court this month ruled that ... more than 300 other Michigan juvenile lifers are entitled to a parole hearing.
Michigan is one of at least 11 states that have revisited their sentencing laws in response to the Supreme Court decision (see Stateline chart). Generally, juvenile killers in those states will be eligible for a parole hearing after serving a mandatory minimum sentence of about 25 years.
Still, there are at least 15 states that have not yet eliminated mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles. In many states, legislatures and courts aren’t sure how the Miller decision should apply to offenders such ... already serving such sentences. Nationwide, there are more than 2,000 prisoners in 43 states serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles....
[I]n Pennsylvania, which has largest number of inmates whose sentences are covered by the Supreme Court ruling, the state Supreme Court has been considering the retroactivity question for over a year. The court’s decision could lead to the resentencing and eventual release of over 400 convicted murderers.
In Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi, judges have ruled that the Supreme Court decision applies retroactively to all prisoners serving such sentences. But in Minnesota and Florida, judges have ruled that the Supreme Court decision only applies to future cases.
State Supreme Courts in Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts and Colorado will likely consider the retroactivity question this fall, said Marsha Levick, chief counsel at the Juvenile Law Center, a legal advocacy group for youth....
The super-predator theory, popular in the early 1990s, predicted a wave of juvenile violent crime in the following decade. States reacted by treating many juvenile offenders as if they were adults. Between 1992 and 1995, 48 states increased penalties for juveniles convicted of violent crime, according to the Department of Justice. But that wave never came: Juvenile crime started to drop in the early 1990s, and it has continued to decline in the years since, as has adult crime.
The harsher juvenile sentencing laws likely were not a factor in the decline, since data show there was no difference in the crime rate for states with mandatory life without parole sentences and those without. Crime has declined nationwide, and across all demographics....
Considering youth as a mitigating factor is part of the Supreme Court’s broader move toward treating kids differently than adults. In two decisions banning the death penalty for juveniles for both homicide and non-homicide crimes, the justices relied heavily on neuroscience showing that brains are still growing and changing well through the teenage years, meaning that juveniles are likely to grow out of their criminal behavior, especially if they’re put in a rehabilitative setting.
Still, kids are committing adult crimes, and in these cases, victims’ families were promised life without parole sentences for their family member’s killer, said Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. “Families were told that (the killers) would never be paroled, and that could have been 20 or 30 years ago,” Yearout said. “Now the families are being told that’s not true anymore and that’s very frightening. It’s very important to have truth in sentencing so that victims have assurance that the sentence will actually be what’s set.” Schuette has said he will appeal the Michigan federal court decision.
Most of the 11 states that have changed their laws to comply with Miller v. Alabama have either discouraged the use of life without parole sentences for juveniles, or scrapped them altogether.
But because the Supreme Court only struck down mandatory life without parole for juveniles, and not all such sentences, states are not required to completely overhaul their juvenile sentencing policies. In Alabama, where the Supreme Court case originated, the attorney general recently advised district attorneys to seek life with parole in two ongoing juvenile murder cases. The Alabama legislature has not yet approved any changes in mandatory sentencing laws to comply with the Supreme Court ruling.
August 26, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Monday, August 19, 2013
Effective press review of some state responses to SCOTUS Miller rulingThe AP has this notable new article on the wire discussing at lengthy some of the response at the state level to the Supreme Court's Miller ruling last year prohibiting madatory LWOP sentences for juvenile murderers. Here is an excerpt:
[There are] an estimated 2,100 so-called juvenile lifers across the country — inmates sentenced to lengthy prison terms without parole — who hope for a reprieve in the wake of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Miller v. Alabama. The decision determined such sentences are cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional. The court ruled, 5-4, that the proportionality of the sentence must take into account "the mitigating qualities of youth," such as immaturity and the failure of young people to understand the ramifications of their actions.
In part to head off an avalanche of expected appeals, at least 10 states have changed laws to comply with the ruling. In June, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed a bill eliminating mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile killers, who are also ineligible for the death penalty. The new law requires juveniles convicted of first-degree murder to serve at least 25 years in prison while still allowing judges the discretion to impose a sentence of life without parole. Juvenile offenders convicted of first-degree murder are also allowed to petition for a sentence modification after serving 30 years.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed a bill in February specifying that juveniles convicted of murder would be eligible for parole after serving 25 years in prison. Last fall, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation giving judges options other than life in prison when sentencing juveniles in murder cases. Other states with new juvenile sentencing laws include Arkansas, California, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah, according to data collected by the National Conference of State Legislatures this summer.
In Connecticut, [there are] about 200 inmates who could be affected by the high court's ruling, a proposal that would have allowed parole hearings for teen offenders who've served at least 12 years or 60 percent of their sentence died this year. There are plans to resurrect the bill next year.
But the prospect of possibly shortening sentences has been met with mixed reaction from relatives of crime victims. "If you can't believe a judge's final decision in a courtroom, who can you believe?" asked John Cluny, whose wife and teenage son were shot to death in 1993 by his son's 15-year-old friend, Michael Bernier. Bernier was sentenced to 60 years for the murders. Cluny calls him "a cold-blooded killer."
Despite good behavior in prison and years of reflection and maturity, Cluny questions giving such killers another chance at freedom. "You're in prison for what you did, not for what you've become," he said.
August 19, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | 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, August 13, 2013
US District Judge tells Michigan that all its mandatory juve LWOP sentences are unconstitutionalAs reported in this local piece, headlined "Judge upholds ban on life, no parole for juveniles in Michigan," a federal district judge in the state up north has issued a new little opinion with significant impact for juve LWOP defendants sentenced before Miller. Here are the basics:
A federal judge ruled Monday that Michigan must grant parole consideration to anyone convicted of murder as a juvenile, rejecting the state attorney general’s request that an earlier decision to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban on no-parole sentences for juveniles apply only to the convicts who challenged the state’s law.
Michigan has an automatic life-without-parole sentence for first-degree murder convictions, and applies at any age. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that it is cruel and unusual punishment to deny parole consideration to those who are under 18 when convicted. The state said at the time said it had more than 350 prisoners in that category, out of about 2,000 nationwide....
Acting on a 2010 suit by nine Michigan prisoners who received no-parole sentences as juveniles, U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara in Ann Arbor ruled Jan. 30 that Michigan must allow the possibility of parole in cases where the defendant is under 18 when convicted. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on mandatory no-parole punishments while that lawsuit was pending.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a motion that O’Meara’s decision apply only to those who brought the suit, while the ACLU asked that it apply to those now serving life without parole for convictions as juveniles. Schuette’s office has contended that the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t automatically apply to past sentences, only to those sentenced since the 2012 high court ruling.
On Monday, O’Meara rejected Schuette’s request and said the high court’s ruling applied to past as well as future sentences. State prosecutors “believe they may enforce the statute, which the court has declared unconstitutional, with respect to other juveniles sentenced to life in prison,” the judge wrote. “As this court now makes clear, defendants are incorrect.”
“Every person convicted of first-degree murder in the state of Michigan as a juvenile and who was sentenced to life in prison shall be eligible for parole,” the judge said.
Schuette spokeswoman Joy Yearout said the attorney general “disagrees strongly” with the ruling and said it would subject victims’ families “to re-live horrible tragedies at future parole hearings for teenage murderers already sentenced by a jury of their peers to life in prison without parole.”
“Once a final order is entered in this case, Attorney General Schuette intends to file an immediate appeal,” Yearout said in an email.
The order referenced here runs only two pages and is available at this link. I think it kind of "resolves" the issue of whether and how the Supreme Court's Miller rulong applies retroactively in a potent and (unduly?) simplistic way. It will be interest to see just how the Michigan AG develops his arguments on appeal and what the Sixth Circuit ultimately has to say about them.
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
Friday, July 05, 2013
A year later, Texas still working through its response to MillerThis New York Times article, headlined "Young Killers in Texas Await Change in Mandatory Life Sentences," reports on the struggles that the Lone Star State has had in fuguring out just how to respond to the Supreme Court's ruling last year in Miller v. Alabama. Here are excerpts:
[Scottie] Forcey was convicted in 2009 of fatally shooting Karen Burke, a 52-year-old Alvarado convenience store clerk. He is the youngest of 23 Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmates who received mandatory sentences of life without parole for committing capital murder when they were younger than 18.
Now, as legislators work to comply with a United States Supreme Court ruling, those inmates could become eligible for parole after serving 40 years.
The justices ruled last year that sentences of life without parole for 17-year-old murderers violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Either the courts or Gov. Rick Perry could change such sentences in Texas. But both are waiting for legislators to decide what punishment juveniles like Mr. Forcey should face. Lawmakers, who failed to pass legislation in two sessions this year, are trying now for a third time.
In Texas, 17-year-olds have faced the same sentencing options as adults convicted of capital murder: the death penalty or life without parole. In 2005, the Supreme Court prohibited the death penalty for anyone under 18, deciding that the less-developed brains of juveniles rendered them less culpable. That left only life without parole as the punishment for 17-year-olds.
After the court’s decision last year, in Miller v. Alabama, prosecutors said they had no sentencing options for 17-year-old killers. They asked lawmakers to make them subject to the same punishment Texas law requires for 14- to 16-year-old capital murderers: life with parole eligibility after 40 years.
Lance Long, a Harris County assistant district attorney, recently told lawmakers that until they decided on a sentencing option, such murder trials were being delayed across Texas. “None of these cases are anything but very, very, very serious,” Mr. Long said.
The Texas Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee has approved a bill that would require a sentence of life with parole eligibility after 40 years. The House, however, has indicated it wants to give juries the option to sentence 17-year-olds to life without parole if other factors — like evidence of abuse or mental illness — are considered. In previous sessions this year, both chambers approved bills addressing the sentencing question, but time ran out before they could get final approval.
Mr. Perry has told prosecutors that when lawmakers decided on a new sentencing bill, he would consider recommending commutation for inmates like Mr. Forcey who were sentenced under the old law. “It really only seems fair and just,” said Justin Wood, the legislative liaison for the Harris County district attorney’s office in Houston.
July 5, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, 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
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
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Notable Miller-aftermath news from three states
Coincidentally, I saw these three news stories this morning concerning how three states are dealing (or not dealing) with the Supreme Court's 2012 Miller ruling concerning the sentencing of juvenile murderers:
From Alabama here, "Lawyers look to Alabama Supreme Court on juvenile killer sentences after legislature fails to act"
From Louisiana here, "Juveniles serving life sentences could become parole eligible under bill headed to Louisiana Senate"
From Missouri here, "Missouri sentencing law for juveniles draws criticism"
In addition to urging readers to comment on which of this trio of states seems to be doing better or worse job with Miller management, I wonder if anyone knows of a collection of resources (ideally on-line) with a state-by-state accouting of responses to Miller and/or a defendant-by-defendant review of efforts to obtain resentencing based on Miller.
May 22, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Friday, May 03, 2013
Nebraska legislature sends "Miller fix" bill to governorAs reported in this local article, headlined "Lawmakers pass new sentencing limits for juveniles," a bill responsive to new Eighth Amendment doctrine which modifies the sentencing options for young killers has been passed by Nebraska's legislature. Here are the details:
With the bill (LB44), juveniles could be sentenced to a minimum 40 years to life, with eligibility for parole after 20 years. Judges could continue to use discretion on life sentences for young people who commit first-degree murder. And they could sentence a youth to more than the minimum.
The bill grew out of the state's need to act on a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that indicated states must provide some meaningful opportunity for release based upon demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. The courts would have to consider mitigating factors in sentencing, such as age, maturity and home environment, including previous abuse of the juvenile.
LB44 passed final reading Thursday on a 38-1 vote. Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad was the lone vote against it. "I just felt like the mandatory minimums were too extensive, particularly when we are talking about juveniles," she said.
But there are good aspects of the bill, Conrad said. "And I appreciate the hard work and compromise that the committee and the sponsors and other members diligently worked on."...
The bill doesn't address retroactive action for those inmates who committed their crimes as juveniles and are serving life sentences. Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Ashford has said the courts would have to address that. If signed by the governor, those men and women serving mandatory life sentences could file requests to have their sentences reviewed.
I have plans this summer to write an article explaining why I think, both as a matter of law and as a matter of policy, all significant changes to sentencing rules and procedures ought to be presumptively retroactive rather than presumptively non-retroactive (subject to constitutional limits/problems). Consequently, I think court should presume retroactivity in a setting like this one when it appears a legislature has opted not to address whether a new sentencing statute should be retroactive and has punted the issue to the courts to fill in this legislative gap.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Mizzou Supreme Court hears arguments concerning Miller's impactAs reported in this local article, headlined "MO Sup Court hears cases of two St. Louis juveniles sentenced to life without parole," the top court in the Show Me State is trying to figure out how it must adjust its sentencing system in the wake of last year's Miller ruling by the US Supreme Court. Here are the basics of what is now before the Supreme Court of Missouri:
Two St. Louis cases were among the first to go before the state's high court Tuesday as it tries to decide what should be done with dozens of juvenile murder convicts who were sentenced to mandatory terms of life without parole before the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional....
One of those is the high-profile case of Ledale Nathan Jr., who was 16 when he and an accomplice stormed into a home in the LaSalle Park neighborhood of St. Louis, burglarized it and shot the family members inside. One woman was killed and two others, a city firefighter and police officer, were wounded.
In Missouri, first-degree murder carries only two sentencing options: life without parole, or death (which the U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled could not apply to juveniles). But in the June 2012 Miller v. Alabama decision, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that while juveniles can be sentenced to life without parole, it cannot be automatic and must only be done after the judge or jury has the opportunity to hear mitigating circumstances that include the defendant's age and a range of other factors.
The state legislature is expected to ultimately decide how to change the statutory range of punishment to comport with the court ruling, clearing things up for cases going forward. But in the meantime, the state supreme court is being asked to consider what the Miller decision means for the older cases — both those on direct appeal, and those that have exhausted their state court remedies.
There are 84 cases in Missouri in which a person is currently serving life without parole for an offense committed as a juvenile, according to the last count by the Missouri Department of Corrections. Of those cases, 46 of the offenders were age 17 at the time of the crime, 25 were age 16, 11 were age 15, and two were age 14.
Of the three cases argued on Tuesday, two were being heard on direct appeal, one being the Nathan case. The state, represented by Attorney General Kris Koster's office, conceded that the two cases should get a new sentencing hearing, but argued the only options should be life — which amounts to 30 years in Missouri — or life without parole.
"Allowing life and life without parole achieves as close as the court can get without adding words or redrafting the statute," argued Assistant Attorney General Evan Buchheim, in the Nathan case. Buchheim said until the legislature decide on anything different, "we've got to work with what we've got."
But Nathan's attorney, Jessica Hathaway, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued as a friend of the court, contended that route would go beyond the court's authority by rewriting the statute. They argued instead for a sentencing range that applies for second degree murder, or a Class A felony, which is ten to 30 years (life)....
Similar arguments were made in the other case being heard on direct appeal, the St. Louis case of Laron Hart, convicted of the fatally shooting of a man and robbery of a woman at gunpoint in January 2010, when he was 17. In the third case involves the 1995 conviction of a McDonald County woman, Sheena Eastburn, as an accomplice in the shooting death of her husband. The state has argued Miller does not apply to her case because she has exhausted her appeals, among other procedural issues.
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.
Monday, April 08, 2013
Florida still trying to figure out its Miller fixAs reported in this local article, headlined "Lawmakers differ on how to fix juvenile sentencing laws," Florida is still not yet sure how it will change its laws to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling last year in Miller. Here are the basics:
[W]ith the 2013 legislative session at its midpoint, it’s unclear if legislation will be passed fixing the problem. It’s also unclear if the legislation will allow judges to sentence minors to lesser sentences, or if some form of parole will return to Florida for the first time in a generation.
“It is something that needs to be fixed,” said state Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, who has introduced one of the several bills that would amend Florida’s sentencing laws. “But there doesn’t seem to be much will to get anything done.”...
Florida law now mandates anyone convicted of first-degree murder gets life in prison without the possibility of parole, if they are not sentenced to death. There are no exceptions for people younger than 18....
State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has introduced a bill that would allow judges to sentence minors to less than life in prison. It requires any minor convicted of first-degree murder to go through a sentencing hearing where both sides would argue what the sentence should be.
Issues like a defendant’s background, remorse, education and family history could be introduced for a judge to consider. The family of the victim would also be allowed to testify. Parole was eliminated for anyone convicted after 1994, and Bradley’s bill still prohibits it.
“I am not comfortable with a hearing occurring every five years or so where a family shows up and argues about why the defendant who killed their loved one should stay in jail,” he said. “A parole-like system is not in the best interests of Florida.”
Soto’s bill does the opposite. Life sentences are still required, but juvenile defendants will be up for parole 15 to 25 years after the sentencing occurred. “I do think they need to go to jail for a long time,” Soto said. “But children that age do deserve an opportunity to get out.”
When they’re up for parole, whether they’ve educated themselves in prison and what their family life was like beforehand will be considered, Soto said. Soto’s legislation also permits parole for juveniles who get life sentences for lesser offenses like second-degree murder. Those people would be up for parole after 15 years while first-degree murderers would have to wait 25 years.
J.D. Moorehead, a professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, said Bradley’s legislation would likely survive a court challenge because it addresses the major concern the Supreme Court had. Soto’s plan to bring back the parole system might be more problematic, although it does make a certain amount of sense to bring back parole for juveniles, Moorehead said.
The most logical step might be to take a hybrid of both bills, give judges the option of life without parole but allow them to impose a lighter sentence, and also let judges decide whether the defendant should be eligible for parole at some point, Moorehead said. “Judges know the people in front of them best,” he said.