Tuesday, February 11, 2014
"The Illusory Eighth Amendment"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by John Stinneford now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Although there is no obvious doctrinal connection between the Supreme Court’s Miranda jurisprudence and its Eighth Amendment excessive punishments jurisprudence, the two are deeply connected at the level of methodology. In both areas, the Supreme Court has been criticized for creating “prophylactic” rules that invalidate government actions because they create a mere risk of constitutional violation. In reality, however, both sets of rules deny constitutional protection to a far greater number of individuals with plausible claims of unconstitutional treatment than they protect.
This dysfunctional combination of over- and underprotection arises from the Supreme Court’s use of implementation rules as a substitute for constitutional interpretation. A growing body of scholarship has shown that constitutional adjudication involves at least two distinct judicial activities: interpretation and implementation. Prophylactic rules are defensible as implementation tools that are necessary to reduce error costs in constitutional adjudication.
This Article contributes to implementation rules theory by showing that constitutional interpretation, defined as a receptive and non-instrumental effort to understand constitutional meaning, normally must precede constitutional implementation. When the Supreme Court constructs implementation rules without first interpreting the Constitution, the rules appear arbitrary and overreaching because they do not have a demonstrable connection to constitutional meaning. Such rules also narrow the scope of the Constitution itself, denying protection to any claimant who does not come within the rules. The only way to remedy this dysfunction and provide meaningful protection across a broad range of cases is to interpret the Constitution before implementing it.
February 11, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Death Penalty Reforms, Graham and Sullivan Eighth Amendment cases, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Recommended reading, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Thursday, May 23, 2013
NACDL rolls out state-by-state "excessive sentencing" proportionality litigation resource
I am extraordinarily proud and excited to report that, as detailed via a new NACDL news release, that the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is now offering, "as a resource for its members and as a service to the public, a collection of individual downloadable documents that summarize for each U.S. state the key doctrines and leading court rulings setting forth constitutional and statutory limits on lengthy imprisonment terms and other extreme (non-capital) sentences."
This resource has been given the name Excessive Sentencing: NACDL’s Proportionality Litigation Project its main page can be accessed via this link. Here is a bit more from the NACDL press release about the resource (and also my role therein):
Development of this new resource was inspired in part by the Supreme Court’s recent landmark constitutional decisions in Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (May 17, 2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 245 (June 25, 2012), which pronounced new Eighth Amendment limits on when and how states can impose life without parole prison terms on juvenile offenders. The state profiles and related materials provide a detailed snapshot of existing proportionality doctrines and jurisprudence as of fall 2012. They are intended as a resource for practitioners in all phases of the criminal justice system, for sentencing and appellate courts, for policymakers and advocates concerned with the high economic and human costs of excessively long terms of imprisonment, and for defendants facing or serving extreme prison terms.
The primary academic supervisor of this resource is Professor Douglas A. Berman of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.... Professor Berman intends to update these materials regularly as developments in the law warrant and new information becomes available.
On the project’s landing page –- which can be accessed here -- there is a free, nearly 90-minute sentencing skills webinar featuring Professor Berman and Stephen Hardwick, an assistant public defender in Columbus, Ohio....
In addition, the project landing page has this additional account of what this resource now provides and hopes to help achieve:
The state profiles and related materials, which were prepared by recent law school graduates under the supervision of Professor Douglas A. Berman, provide a detailed snapshot of existing proportionality doctrines and jurisprudence as of fall 2012. Unsurprisingly in the wake of Graham and Miller, there has been a significant increase in state-level litigation concerning lengthy prison terms, especially for juvenile offenders. The expectation is to have Professor Berman, in conjunction with the pro bono efforts other lawyers and aided especially by NACDL members and others who utilize this resource, revise and update these profiles regularly.
The profiles and charts are intended as a resource for practitioners in all phases of the criminal justice system, for sentencing and appellate courts, for policymakers and advocates concerned with the high economic and human costs of excessively long terms of imprisonment, and for defendants facing or serving extreme prison terms. The Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed that the Eighth Amendment’s “scope is not static [but] must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958); state-level doctrinal and jurisprudential developments have thus always had heightened federal constitutional significance in this area of law. Moreover, state policy-makers and state jurists have long understood that the Eighth Amendment sets only a minimum constitutional floor limiting only the most extreme punishment policies and practices: state lawmakers and judges can and should feel not merely free, but institutionally obliged, to consider developing their own distinct legal limits on unduly harsh sentencing terms based on distinct state-level requirements and needs. The profiles posted here demonstrate that, even though there is some notable convergence in state-level proportionality doctrines, there are also some important variations and innovations concerning how states seek to protect its citizens from extreme or excessive criminal punishments.
I plan to discuss this web resource and the broader NACDL projectin a series of posts over the next few weeks and months. For now, I just hope everyone will take a look at what we have posted (and perhaps begin commenting on what other materials might be usefully assembled and linked in this space).
May 23, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Graham and Sullivan Eighth Amendment cases, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack
Monday, April 29, 2013
"Is 100 Years a Life Sentence? Opinions Are Divided"The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Sidebar column in the New York Times by Adam Liptak. Hard-core sentencing fans should realize from the title that this is a story about one of the many doctrinal questions gurgling in lower courts three years after a landmark Eighth Amendment SCOTUS ruling. Here are excerpts from the column:
If people who are too young to vote commit crimes short of murder, the Supreme Court said in 2010, they should not be sentenced to die in prison. That sounds straightforward enough. But there are two ways to understand the decision, Graham v. Florida.
One is formal. The court may have meant only to bar sentences labeled “life without parole.” On that understanding, judges remained free to impose very long sentences — 100 years, say — as long as they were for a fixed term rather than for life....
The other way to understand the decision is practical. If the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment requires that young offenders be left with a glimmer of hope that they may someday be released, it should not matter whether they were sentenced to life in so many words or as a matter of rudimentary actuarial math.
The lower courts are split on how to interpret the Graham decision, and the Supreme Court seems to be in no hurry to answer the question. Last week, the justices turned away an appeal from Chaz Bunch of Ohio, who was convicted of kidnapping and raping a woman in a carjacking when he was 16. He was sentenced to 89 years. Even assuming he becomes eligible for early release, he will be 95 years old before he can leave prison.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, upheld the sentence, even as it acknowledged that there were two ways to approach the matter.... Until the Supreme Court speaks, Judge Rogers wrote, there is no “clearly established federal law” to assist Mr. Bunch, who was challenging his state conviction in federal court.
Applying the reasoning of the Graham decision to long fixed sentences, Judge Rogers added, “would lead to a lot of questions.” An appeals court in Florida last year listed some of them in upholding a 76-year sentence meted out to Leighdon Henry, who was 16 when he committed rape.
“At what number of years would the Eighth Amendment become implicated in the sentencing of a juvenile: 20, 30, 40, 50, some lesser or greater number?” Judge Jacqueline R. Griffin wrote for the court.
Mr. Henry is black and was born in 1989. The life expectancy of black males born that year was 64, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Life expectancy in prison is shorter than it is outside. Wherever the line is, then, a 76-year sentence would seem to be past it. “Could the number vary from offender to offender based on race, gender, socioeconomic class or other criteria?” Judge Griffin asked.
That is a reasonable question. But Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., said it was the wrong one. “The idea isn’t to get the person as close to death as possible before you deal with the possibility of their release,” he said. It is, rather, to give juvenile offenders a sporting chance, perhaps after decades in prison, to make the case that they deserve to get out, he said....
The number of juvenile offenders serving de facto life terms because of very long sentences is probably in the hundreds. Some of the appeals court judges who have upheld such sentences did not sound enthusiastic about the task. “Without any tools to work with, however, we can only apply Graham as it is written,” Judge Griffin wrote. “If the Supreme Court has more in mind, it will have to say what that is.”
April 29, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Graham and Sullivan Eighth Amendment cases, Offender Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Seeking advice on (and cites to) thoughtful state Eighth Amendment rulings
In all likelihood, we still have a few more weeks to wait for Supreme Court rulings in in Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama, the two big pending Eighth Amendment cases concerning the constitutionality of states sentencing 14-year-old killers to life without the possibility of parole. In part because I hope the coming rulings in Jackson and Miller might spark and provide a foundation for a new round of interesting constitutional litigation over extreme prison sentences (and not just for young offenders), I am interested in gathering information about the most interesting and thoughtful Eighth Amendment rulings coming from state courts in recent years (particularly in the wake of the Graham ruling).
I am aware of some leading recent state court Eighth Amendment rulings in states like California and Florida and Iowa, all of which had to swiftly and directly confront the import and impact of the Graham ruling for a number of juvenile offenders serving very long prison terms for nonhomicide offenses. But I know I have seen a few interesting and thoughtful post-Graham rulings concerning limits on adult sentences imposed by the Eighth Amendment (and/or similar state constitutional provisions) from state supreme courts in Ohio and South Dakota and others states. And I suspect there are (lots of?) notable rulings from lower state appellate courts (both affirming and reversing long prison sentences) that I have not seen.
Ergo this "bleg" for help from readers: Can and will folks via the comments to this post (or via an e-mail) suggest examples with cites/links to what they consider the most interesting and thoughtful Eighth Amendment rulings coming from state courts in recent years?
For purposes of this bleg, I am most interested in non-capital cases and especially those rulings involving challenges to adult sentences. But I am happy to hear about just about any recent significant state court rulings (for or against a defendant) that thoughtfully engage with modern Eighth Amendment doctrines and/or with comparable state constitutional provisions. Thanks!
May 30, 2012 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Graham and Sullivan Eighth Amendment cases, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Saturday, April 21, 2012
"Proportionality and Parole"
The title of this post is the title of this new article by Professor Richard Bierschbach, which is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Commentators analyzing the Supreme Court’s watershed decision in Graham v. Florida, which prohibited sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide crimes, have generally done so in substantive proportionality terms, ignoring or downplaying parole in the process. This Article challenges that approach, focusing on the intersection of proportionality and parole as a jumping off point.
Taking parole seriously makes clear that Graham is difficult to understand solely in terms of substantive proportionality concepts like individual culpability and punishment severity. Instead, the decision can be seen as establishing a rule of constitutional criminal procedure, one that links the validity of punishment to the institutional structure of sentencing. By requiring the state to revisit its first-order sentencing judgments at a later point in time, Graham mandates a procedural space for granular, individualized, and ultimately more reliable sentencing determinations. I expose this procedural and institutional side of parole’s constitutional significance, situate it within the constitutional landscape of sentencing, and sketch some of its implications for the future of sentencing regulation.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
"No death penalty for 17-year-old accused of killing parents, partying"
The title of this post is the headline of this press report on the constitutional sentencing limits on the punishment that can be received by an already notorious teenage murder suspect. Here are the details of what is the latest high-profile Florida crime (largely because of how the defendant apparently "celebrated" killing his parents):
Because of his age, 17-year-old Tyler Hadley will not face the death penalty if he’s convicted in the brutal slaying of his parents, officials with the State Attorney’s Office confirmed Tuesday. If he's eventually convicted ... Hadley could be ordered to serve a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Hadley, the Port St. Lucie teen accused of posting an invitation to a party on Facebook, then killing his parents with a hammer, made his first appearance before a judge Tuesday morning.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said afterwards that the state's ultimate punishment can't be considered here because several years ago the U.S. Supreme Court determined "it would be cruel and unusual to subject minors to the death penalty."
"It’s simply off the table; it’s not a viable option," Bakkedahl said Tuesday. "Despite the fact that the case may otherwise in all respects warrant the death penalty, we are prohibited from seeking it as a result of him being approximately six-months short of his 18th birthday."...
Police accuse Hadley of killing his parents Blake and Mary Jo Hadley. Their bodies were found in their locked bedroom in the 300 block of Northeast Granduer Avenue on Sunday morning. Hadley was initially arrested as a juvenile, but Monday he was charged as an adult of two counts of 2nd-degree murder with a weapon and is being held on no bond at the St. Lucie County jail....
Bakkedahl, who was attending the Hadley autopsies at the Medical Examiner’s office in Fort Pierce, said state law requires the case be presented to a grand jury in order to seek first-degree murder charges.
Based on the criminal investigation conducted by Port St. Lucie police, Bakkedahl said evidence gathered supports charges of first-degree murder. "I think it’s going to be a clear first-degree murder case," he said. "The only difference between this and any other first-degree murder case is as a result of his age, he does not face the prospect of the death penalty."...
Early Sunday morning, Port St. Lucie police received an anonymous tip indicating a 17-year-old might have killed his parents and the bodies had been in the home during a party attended by as many as 60 people. Police went to the home about 4:20 a.m. Sunday. There police found a hammer between the bodies of Mary Jo Hadley, 47, and 54-year-old Blake Hadley. Tyler Hadley was arrested late Sunday....
"It was a merciless killing. It was brutal and the Facebook invitation — a party to have your friends and 40 to 60 people come over — I think speaks for itself," Port St. Lucie police Capt. Don Kryak said, standing at the scene Monday. "The blunt force trauma to the head and torso with a 22-inch framing hammer can effect a considerable amount of injury."
Police believe Tyler Hadley acted alone, but officials don't know a motive. The former St. Lucie West Centennial High School student made no incriminating statements.
Kryak said the Facebook party invitation was posted about 1:15 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. Saturday — before the homicides occurred. Investigators suspect Tyler Hadley's mother was killed first, and then his father, and that the slayings happened outside the master bedroom door of the single-story home in the 300 block of Northeast Granduer Avenue.
In addition to providing a high-profile example of the impact of the Supreme Court's Roper limit on the application of the death penalty, I can imagine this disturbing case having some indirect impact on post-Graham legislative and litigation efforts to prevent LWOP sentences for even juvenile killers.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
"The Supreme Court and the Sentencing of Juveniles in the United States: Reaffirming the Distinctiveness of Youth"
The title of this post is the title of this new piece by a doctor in a forthcoming medical journal which in now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In the 21st century’s first decade, the U.S. Supreme Court has set two key constitutionally-based limits to punishment of juveniles. In Roper v. Simmons (2005) the Court barred imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed by juveniles, and in Graham v. Florida (2010) it forbade life imprisonment without possibility of parole (LWOP) for juveniles who commit non-homicide offenses. Both decisions held these penalties violated the Eight Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment because they were disproportionate given juveniles’ distinctive cognitive, psychosocial and neuroanatomical characteristics. Roper and Graham reflect two decades’ long trends, one legal and one clinical, whose interaction will control the legal system’s approach to juvenile justice for some time.
Since 1980 more children, at younger ages, became legally susceptible to much harsher punishments (through trial as adults), yet over the same period clinical skepticism concerning the cognitive, psychosocial, and neuroanatomical development of youth that was required for the legal process, and the appropriateness of these sentences, grew. In Roper and Graham the Court resolved this paradox by siding clearly with clinicians . The Court’s adoption of a developmental model of culpability, with heavy reliance on cognitive psychological research concerning risk-taking, susceptibility to peer pressure and mutability of character, as well as MRI and fMRI studies of adolescent and young adult brain development, may produce future challenges to lengthy juvenile sentences, to broad provisions allowing transfer of juveniles for trial as adults and even possibly to younger juveniles’ competence to stand trial.
June 21, 2011 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Graham and Sullivan Eighth Amendment cases, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Oregon Supreme Court says federal law does not allow denial of local gun permits for state marijuana users
As detailed in this AP report, today the "Oregon Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that a retired school bus driver can have her medical marijuana and a concealed handgun, too." Here are the basics:
The ruling upheld previous decisions by the Oregon Court of Appeals and circuit court that determined a federal law barring criminals and drug addicts from buying firearms does not excuse sheriffs from issuing concealed weapons permits to people who hold medical marijuana cards and otherwise qualify. "We hold that the Federal Gun Control Act does not pre-empt the state's concealed handgun licensing statute and, therefore, the sheriffs must issue (or renew) the requested licenses," Chief Justice Paul De Muniz wrote in the ruling issued in Salem.
Cynthia Willis, one of four plaintiffs, welcomed the ruling. "I feel like a big girl now," Willis said. "I feel like a real human being now, not just a source of revenue to the county."
Leland Berger, the attorney representing Willis and other medical marijuana patients in the state, said the ruling was important in the continuing national debate over making marijuana legal to treat medical conditions. "I am hopeful we will end cannabis prohibition the same way we ended alcohol prohibition, which was by refusing to enforce federal laws within the state," Berger said....
Willis, 54, has carried a Walther .22-caliber automatic pistol for personal protection since a messy divorce several years ago. She volunteers at a Medford smoke shop that helps medical marijuana patients find growers, and teaches how to get the most medical benefit from the pound-and-a-half of pot that card carriers are allowed to possess. She uses marijuana cookies, joints and salves to treat arthritis pain and muscle spasms.
Elmer Dickens, a lawyer representing the sheriffs of Washington and Jackson counties, said the ruling provided needed clarification on whether the defendants should follow federal or state law on what has been a cloudy issue. Dickens did not anticipate an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, because the ruling focused so tightly on state law. "Every sheriff knows now what the rules are, and we got what we needed," he said.
The ruling also said Congress has no constitutional authority to require states to use gun licensing statues to enforce a federal law like the prohibition on handguns for marijuana users....
Oregon Attorney General John Kroger had argued in favor of the medical marijuana patients and against the sheriffs of Jackson and Washington counties who withheld handgun permits....
Nearly 40,000 Oregonians hold medical marijuana patient cards, with more than 36,000 of them for severe pain, according to Oregon Medical Marijuana Program statistics. Another 22,000 are registered as growers, and 21,000 as caregivers.
The unanimous ruling from the Oregon Supreme Court is available at this link. It will be interesting to see if any federal officials either at the Justice Department or in Congress have any official reaction to this ruling or the broader issues or "lawful" possessors of pot and guns. Because the pot use issue skews left and the gun possession issue skews right politically, I suspect that most federal folks and politicians will just seek to avoid having to discuss this ruling and the intersection of drug policy and gun policy in states like Oregon that tend to favor individuals on both fronts over government control.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
"Graham v. Florida: Justice Kennedy’s Vision of Childhood and the Role of Judges"
The title of this post is the title of this new piece authored by Professor Tamar Birckhead and available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This short article examines Graham v. Florida, the United States Supreme Court decision holding that the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause does not permit a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life in prison without parole for a nonhomicide crime. This article argues that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion is grounded not only in Roper v. Simmons, which invalidated the death penalty for juvenile offenders on Eighth Amendment grounds, and Kennedy v. Louisiana, which held that the Eighth Amendment prohibited the death penalty for the offense of rape of a child, but in Establishment Clause cases set in the context of public schools and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause cases upholding parental notification requirements for teenagers seeking abortions.
Whereas many journalists and scholars consider Justice Kennedy a “legal pragmatist” who lacks an overarching philosophy to guide his decision-making, in each of these opinions his view of childhood and the proper role of judges is consistent: children and adolescents are unformed works in progress, in the midst of both character and brain development, who are particularly susceptible to direct as well as indirect forms of coercion; as a result, when determining what liberty interests are protected by the United States Constitution, the role of judges and the courts is to ensure that youth mitigates rather than aggravates. Further, although juvenile justice advocates have heralded Graham as a clear victory, the opinion may raise as many questions as it seeks to answer.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Media reports on public support for Atkins, Graham, Heller and Roper
As detailed in this new press story, which is headlined "Public backs most high court rulings," a recent report suggests that the general public is generally supportive of the Supreme Court's recent pro-defendant Eighth Amendment rulings and pro-gun Second Amendment ruling. Here are snippets from the press story:
The Supreme Court shifted to the right four years ago when conservative Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. succeeded moderate Sandra Day O’Connor. And if American public opinion is the measure, the Roberts court has made the right call in most of its major decisions since then, according to a recent study that asked respondents about cases.
A strong majority favored conservative rulings that prohibited “partial-birth” abortions, upheld a homeowner’s right to have a gun, and required voters to show photo identification.
The majority also supported liberal rulings that said environmental regulators could restrict the carbon pollution linked to global warming and that struck down state laws that put juvenile criminals in prison for life without hope for parole....
Columbia University law professor Nathaniel Persily said the court historically has been “to the left of the public” on issues that attract attention, such as crime, religion and affirmative action. Along with Harvard political science professor Stephen Ansolabehere, he set out to survey the public’s view of actual cases. Their Constitutional Attitudes Survey asked more than 1,600 respondents in 2009 and 2010 about issues that were before the Supreme Court....
Overall, the court’s current and nuanced position on the death penalty and abortion is in line with public opinion, the survey found.
A majority supports the death penalty for murder, and the court has upheld capital punishment. The public also agreed with the rulings that ended the death penalty for those who are mentally handicapped (in 2002) and for those under age 18 at the time of their crimes (in 2005).
On abortion, the public supports –- by a 61 percent to 38 percent majority –- the Roe v. Wade ruling that set forth the right to an abortion, but it also supports regulations and restrictions, including limits on late-term abortions.
At Nathaniel Persily's webpage, I found what appears to be the July 2010 report on the Constitutional Attitudes Survey upon which this press article is based. This 113-page "Constitutional Attitudes Field Report" (which is available for download below) is a bit hard to sort through, and I was not able to find the results showing public agreement with the 2010 Graham LWOP decision. Also, though not reported by the press, it appears that the survey also revealed strong disagreement with the Supreme Court's 2008 Kennedy decision prohibiting the death penalty for child rapists.
UPDATE: Via a helpful e-mail, Professor Persily has clarified where the Graham results can be found and what they showed:
We asked the following question (page 99 of the codebook):
In general do you agree or disagree with the following statements: A state should be allowed to sentence for life in prison a person under 18 years of age for armed burglary.
Stongly agree 10.9%
Agree Somewhat 24.6%
Disagree Somewhat 38.0%
Strongly disagree 23.4%
Refused to answer 3.1%
Friday, October 01, 2010
Looking back playfully before looking forward to the new SCOTUS term
I have not spent too much time on Supreme Court previews recently (partially because Ryder Cup previews are more timely and somewhat more interesting these days). But, especially with the new Term about to start, I had extra fun reading this great "revue" of last SCOTUS Term from the pen of Jon Elwood, which is titled "What Were They Thinking -- The Supreme Court in Revue, October Term 2009." Here are a couple of amusing paragraphs from the revue focused on the Court's Eighth Amendment work last Term:
If you noticed that society refilled the tank without being asked the last time it borrowed the car, you’re not alone in marking the progress of a maturing society. Justice Kennedy has been sufficiently impressed that he’s recently voted (and sometimes written opinions) to render unconstitutional previously lawful sentencing practices under the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause — think Atkins v. Virginia (2002) (holding it unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded offenders); Roper v. Simmons (2005) (holding it unconstitutional to execute defendants who murdered while under age 18), and to a lesser extent (because the Court had already so held regarding rape of an adult), Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008) (holding capital punishment cannot be imposed for rape of a child). Kennedy reprised his role as a one-man evolving standard of decency in Graham v. Florida, which is one of those opinions that people seem to forget when they’re bemoaning the arch-conservative Roberts Court. The Court held 6-3 that the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause does not permit imposing a sentence of life without parole on a juvenile offender convicted of a nonhomicide offense. The Court noted that while 37 states permit such sentences, only 11 impose them as a practical matter, and they were mostly states without a first-rate daily paper or bookstore. Thus, there was a national consensus against imposing sentences of life parole on such offenders.
The sort of numerical analysis that is reserved for Eighth Amendment cases, movie-studio accounting, and the federal budget alone would have been enough to cause TMJ-aggravating tooth-gnashing on the right, but Kennedy was not done yet. In a selfless effort to promote renewable energy, Kennedy ended his opinion by noting that the Court’s conclusion was supported by the fact that the sentencing practice was “rejected the world over.” The resulting geysers of steam emanating from conservatives’ ears promises to be a significant source of thermal energy for years to come.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Effective review of how Florida is dealing with the aftermath of SCOTUS Graham rulingToday's Miami Herald has this effective and interesting piece discussing how the state is trying to deal with the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment ruling in Graham concerning juve LWOP sentence for nonhomicide crimes. The article is headlined "Ruling on young, violent lifers puts Florida justice on the spot," and here are excerpts:
Kyan Bucknor was 15 in 1999 when he shot two patrons and unleashed a volley of bullets into Broward Sheriff's Office deputy Al Hibbert outside a Lauderdale Lakes nightclub. The teen's sentence: life in prison.
But Bucknor, now 26, will get a reprieve thanks to a May U.S. Supreme Court decision banning life-without-parole sentences for juveniles who did not kill anyone. The ruling left Florida in a quandary: For undeniably violent crimes, what is an appropriate alternative sentence in a state that has no parole system?
Bucknor is one of 23 South Florida men -- among 100-plus statewide, the most in the nation -- who must now be resentenced under the Graham v. Florida ruling. So far, none have received new prison terms as the judicial system, case by case, county by county, struggles to comply....
Two possible fixes have emerged, from prosecutors and a lawmaker, both requiring mandatory lengthy prison terms followed by the possibility of parole. A statewide prosecutors association has petitioned Florida's Executive Clemency Board to step in and commute the men's sentences to life with the possibility of parole after 20 years -- a move opposed by Gov. Charlie Crist.
Separately, a Jacksonville state lawmaker says he will introduce a bill next year to create a parole system for violent juvenile offenders, with eligibility after 25 years in prison. In keeping with the Supreme Court ruling, both solutions guarantee only the possibility of parole -- not that the inmates would actually get out early.
That's a key point to House Rep. Mike Weinstein, R-Jacksonville, because he wants to keep the offenders behind bars as long as possible. "They try to kill five people, and we can't seek a life sentence. They rape girls -- and they can't be given life," Weinstein said. "But we want to be able to give them a life sentence, and in my mind, they deserve a life sentence."...
In most states, the Graham ruling means simply amending a life sentence to include the possibility of parole. But Florida is in a particular bind because lawmakers abolished parole in 1983 after too many inmates released early were committing high-profile crimes. The state's Parole Commission now reviews only cases that pre-date 1983.
Statewide, there are more than 100 defendants who must be resentenced under the ruling, according to Barry University's Juvenile Justice Center, which tracks the Graham cases. That means, for now, the onus falls on trial judges to resentence individual defendants. Judges who impose new but long terms would be violating the spirit of the Graham decision and simply spark more appeals, defense lawyers warn....
Bill Cervone, president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, worries that judges will impose wildly disparate sentences. "We're going to end up with a mish-mash of results all over the state," said Cervone, the Gainesville-based state attorney.
In an effort to streamline the process, last month the prosecutors group filed the petition with the governor's office, asking the clemency board to commute all Graham cases to sentences of life with the possibility of parole. Then, the parole commission would review each case after the inmate has served 20 years in prison....
Any solution -- whether new legislation, or clemency -- will likely come after the November elections, when politicians will be more willing to tackle the hot-button issue. Crist, in the midst of a hard-fought race for the U.S. Senate, said in a statement that he opposes the prosecutors' proposal....
Prosecutor Cervone believes the state attorneys' proposal, by eliminating the need for resentencing hearings, would be a kinder solution for victims who have struggled to cope with their experiences.
Thursday, September 02, 2010
California state appeals court finds unconstitutional 84-year prison term for 16-year-old car-jacker
As detailed in this San Francisco Chronicle piece, which is headlined "Teen's 84-year sentence overturned by court," at least one California appeals court has extended the Supreme Court's ruling in Graham to a (long) term-of-years sentence. Here is the start of the press article:
After the Legislature killed a Bay Area lawmaker's bill to give juveniles serving life sentences a chance at future parole, a state appeals court took a step in the other direction Wednesday by overturning the 84-year prison term of a 16-year-old gang member convicted of robbery and carjacking.
The sentence is the practical equivalent of life without possible parole and violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, said the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles. The court told the trial judge to resentence Victor Mendez to a term that would give him a chance to gain his freedom someday if he shows maturity and rehabilitation.
The ruling followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision in May that banned life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide. That ruling applied to four youths in California prisons, but did not affect another 250 inmates serving the same sentence for murders committed at ages 16 or 17.
The discussion of Graham starts at page 15 of the full slip opinion in California v. Mendez, No. B217683 (Cal. 2d Dist. App. Sept 1, 2010) (available here). Here is a snippet:
We disagree with Mendez that his de facto LWOP sentence should be reversed pursuant to the holding in Graham. As the People note, Graham expressly limited its holding to juveniles actually sentenced to LWOP.... Mendez‘s sentence is not technically an LWOP sentence, and therefore not controlled by Graham. We are nevertheless guided by the principles set forth in Graham in evaluating Mendez‘s claim that his sentence is cruel and unusual....
Even without Graham, we would conclude that Mendez‘s sentence is unconstitutional when evaluated under the traditional "proportionality" test used by the federal and state courts when evaluating individual claims that a sentence is cruel and unusual. Although articulated slightly differently, both standards prohibit punishment that is "grossly disproportionate" to the crime or the individual culpability of the defendant....
In reaching our conclusion that Mendez‘s sentence is the equivalent of LWOP and that it is cruel and unusual punishment, we are mindful of the fact that successful challenges to sentences on the grounds of cruel and unusual punishment are rare. Nevertheless, we find this to be such a rare case, and we therefore remand the matter to the trial court for reconsideration of Mendez‘s sentence.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
"Rethinking Proportionality Under the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause"The title of this post is the title of this terrific-looking new article by John Stinneford that is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Although a century has passed since the Supreme Court started reviewing criminal punishments for excessiveness under the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, this area of doctrine remains highly problematic. The Court has never answered doubts about the legitimacy of proportionality review, leading a controlling plurality of the Court to insist that such review be limited to a narrow class of cases. The Court has also adopted an ever-shifting definition of excessiveness, making the very concept of proportionality incoherent . Finally, the Court’s method of measuring proportionality is unreliable and self-contradictory. As a result, very few offenders have benefited from the Court’s decision to engage in proportionality review. This area of doctrine needs rethinking.
This article is the first to establish that the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause was originally meant to prohibit excessive punishments as well as barbaric ones, and that proportionality review is therefore unquestionably legitimate. This article also demonstrates that proportionality is a retributive concept, not a utilitarian one. Punishments are unconstitutionally excessive if they are harsher than the defendant deserves as a retributive matter. Finally, this article shows that proportionality should be measured primarily in relation to prior punishment practice. The proposed approach will align the Court’s proportionality jurisprudence more closely with the core purpose of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, and will enable the Court to expand proportionality review to a much larger class of cases.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
California legislature considering bill to eliminate juve LWOP for any crimesThe Supreme Court in Graham declared unconstitutional the imposition of life-without-parole for juvenile offenders who commit nonhomicide offenses. Now, as detailed in this article, the California legislature is considering a bill to eliminate juve LWOP for any crime. The piece is headlined "Bill would let juvenile criminals seek leniency," and here are excerpts:
When Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee talks about SB399, he inevitably points to the case of Sara Kruzan. In 1994, at age 16, Kruzan killed her alleged pimp three years after she was forced into prostitution. The Riverside girl was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to spend the rest of her life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Under SB399, juvenile offenders such as Kruzan, now a 32-year-old prison inmate, would be allowed to ask a court to review their case after 10 years in prison, and could potentially get their sentence reduced to 25 years to life. The bill -- a watered-down version of Yee's original proposal, which would have barred life imprisonment for all juveniles -- has been approved by the state Senate and is set to be taken up by the Assembly as soon as Thursday....
Opponents, including the California District Attorneys Association and the Assembly Republican Caucus, flatly reject those contentions. They argue that the current system works and that only the "worst of the worst" are eligible for life without parole now.
Scott Thorpe, the association's CEO, noted that juveniles are considered for lifetime sentences if they are tried as adults. "We're talking about the most serious types of crimes, and we're also talking about defendants who, because of a number of factors, have been determined to deserve at least eligibility for that punishment. We're talking about first-degree murderers," he said.
Supporters, however, say juveniles are different from adults and should be treated as such. They are more likely to be influenced by other people and don't have the same ability to grasp foresight and consequences, said Yee, a child psychologist. And, he said, their brains are still developing, giving them a larger capacity for rehabilitation than adults. "We're letting prisoners out because of overcrowding -- ought we not at least look at children and see if they are deserving to be let out?" Yee asked.
Elizabeth Calvin of Human Rights Watch and other supporters also argued that juveniles tend to receive harsher sentences than adults for the same crimes, because they are less likely to agree to plea deals, don't always understand their rights or refuse to accept responsibility if they were present for, but did not actually commit, a murder.
The bill would only allow some people to apply for the reduced sentence. For example, a defendant who had previously been convicted of assault or other violent crimes might not be eligible. If a sentence was reduced, a defendant would have to go through the normal process -- a review before a parole board and the governor -- before they could be paroled. "This bill is so narrowly drawn -- it's modest in what it's attempting," said Calvin. "One of the things that makes it different from other early release schemes is that there would be very careful consideration of each case."
In California, approximately 250 people who were juveniles when they committed their crimes are serving lifetime prison sentences without the possibility of parole. Calvin said that nearly half of those defendants are not actually murderers but were convicted of murder because they were present and participating in some other illegal activity when someone was killed, and that most had no prior criminal convictions.
The District Attorneys Association disputed those numbers, saying they were based on interviews with inmates and other anecdotal evidence. The vast majority, Thorpe said, are murderers....
Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Penn Valley (Nevada County) -- the only Republican to support the bill in the Senate -- said all of the arguments overlook one simple question: "Do we believe in rehabilitation or don't we?" he asked. "I think the younger you are, the more of a chance you have to reprogram.... For me, it's just a matter of fairness. If all we want to do is punish people, OK, let's put them away for good. But I don't believe that's what society really wants."
Notably, it appears that California's editorial pages are all supportive of this bill:
- From the Los Angeles Times here, "Legislature should pass Fair Sentencing for Youth Act"
- From the San Diego Union Tribune here, "Life without parole for children?"
- From the Ventura County Star here, "Second chance for young lifers"
Monday, August 16, 2010
"More Different than Life, Less Different than Death"
The title of this post is the title of this terrific-looking new piece by William Berry which discusses the Supreme Court's recent work in the juve LWOP case of Graham v. Florida and makes an argument for LWOP sentences to receive a unique form of Eighth Amendment scrutiny. Here is the piece's abstract:
The Supreme Court has traditionally divided its application of the Eighth Amendment into two categories, capital and non-capital cases, based on the longstanding notion that “death- is-different.” In the recent case of Graham v. Florida, however, the Supreme Court applied its “evolving standards of decency” standard, heretofore reserved for capital cases, to a non-capital case in holding that the Eighth Amendment prohibited states from sentencing juvenile offenders to life without parole for non-homicide crimes. The dissenting justices argued that this decision marked the end of the Court’s “death-is-different” jurisprudence.
This article argues, however, that the decision instead creates the opportunity to establish a new category of Eighth Amendment review for life without parole sentences. While life without parole may not be as “different” from other sentences as death, it is still “different” enough to warrant its own set of heightened standards of Eighth Amendment review.
Part One of the article describes the dichotomy between capital and non-capital cases in the Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and the application of these two lines of cases in Graham v. Florida. Part Two of the article explains why life without parole, a sentence to die in prison, is “different” in its own way. Part Three then argues for the application of a new category of standards under the Eighth Amendment in life without parole cases, and suggests other possible implications of Graham.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
"Youthful offenders deserve a second chance"The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary in the Los Angeles Times authored by Miriam Aroni Krinsky, Ernie Pierce and Jeanne Woodford. Here are excerpts:
One of us is a retired police officer who daily put his life on the line to catch criminals. Another is a former Department of Justice attorney who spent years prosecuting violent drug dealers and organized crime organizations. The third, a former warden of San Quentin State Prison and director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, spent her career ensuring that those convicted served out their sentences as required by law.
Collectively, we have put or kept a lot of people in prison. Prison is where some people justly belong, many for long periods of time. But it is exactly our experience in law enforcement that causes us to agree with the Supreme Court's recent decision to abolish the sentence of life without parole for teens in nonhomicide cases.
That decision, however, did not finish the reforms needed in juvenile sentencing. There are thousands of lifers in the nation's prisons — about 250 in California alone — who as teenagers participated in crimes involving homicides. They all deserve a second chance, and at least some of them may deserve to be released.
As the high court recently recognized, there are inherent differences between teenage and adult criminals. A teen who commits a crime, even a terrible one such as murder, is not forever defined by that one act. Indeed, in our work, we have witnessed dramatic transformations among young people in our correctional facilities and in our neighborhoods....
The Legislature is considering a bill, SB 399, that would allow those who prove they merit a second chance an opportunity to be considered for parole, but only after serving at least 25 years.
Clearly there are offenders who have committed heinous crimes and are unfit to be released regardless of the age they were when they committed their crime. SB 399 would not allow these people to return to our communities. Instead, it would allow for a thoughtful review to determine whether, years later, individuals sentenced as youths continue to pose a threat to the community.
We know that sentencing youngsters to a life in prison with no possibility for review of their sentence as they mature into adulthood isn't simply excessive; it is contrary to the interests of our state.
Life without parole does not deter criminal behavior among youths. Most kids get caught up in crime without analyzing the consequences of their acts. Indeed, research confirms that teenagers have weak impulse control and reasoning abilities.
Life without parole is also a very costly policy. In the case of young people, these sentences cost California about $2.5 million each. And without SB 399, there is no way to revisit these sentences and account for the adult that teen has become.
It is time for California, and our nation as a whole, to take the Supreme Court's decision to its next logical step and join the rest of the world by revisiting inflexible life-without-parole sentences for young offenders. Juvenile offenders are different; our laws and system of justice must acknowledge those differences.
June 2, 2010 in Graham and Sullivan Eighth Amendment cases, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Friday, May 28, 2010
Interesting revision of data on juve LWOPs in the federal systemThe Blog of Legal Times his this new post reporting that through "an unusual filing with the Supreme Court this week, Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal said some of the information that the Court used in its recent Graham v. Florida decision, supplied to the Court by a federal official without the SG's knowledge, was inaccurate." Here is more:
Katyal's letter focused on the information submitted by Bureau of Prisons in its letter, "of which this office became aware only upon the release of the Court's decision," and which was "submitted in response to a confidential request from Court personnel."
Katyal said that because of "time constraints," the number of six federal prisoners was arrived at by consulting "automated inmate records," rather than presentence reports and other documents. Since the decision came down, Katyal said a "careful review" of presentence reports was conducted, leading to the conclusion that "it appears that none of the six inmates listed ... is serving a life sentence based solely on a nonhomicide crime completed before the age of 18." Katyal explained that all of the inmates cited by the Bureau of Prisons were convicted for criminal conduct that continued after they reached 18, or involved killing someone.
Apart from the unusual nature of the Court's own data-gathering project, the letter is also noteworthy as it may relate to Solicitor General Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court. Ordinarily in state cases like Graham v. Florida, the federal government weighs in, if the outcome could affect federal law or policy. The government stayed out of the Florida case, however, in spite of the fact that federal law does permit sentencing of juveniles as young as 13 to life without parole, as the Court noted. If six actual federal inmates were affected by the Florida case, it might have made the SG's decision to stay out of the case more notable.
Over at Crime & Consequences, Kent has this effective post, "Kagan, Graham, and ex parte research," reporting on these developments and closing with these astute thoughts:
Nobody comes out looking good in this. The Court should know better than to engage in ex parte fact gathering and using the results as a basis for making constitutional law. The SG should have known that at least some federal judgments were in jeopardy from an adverse ruling and defended the federal law accordingly.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Effective new commentary on the Supreme Court's work in GrahamOver at Findlaw, Professor Sherry Colb has this new column on the Supreme Court's recent Eighth Amendment work in Graham. The piece is titled simply, "High Court Rejects Life Without Parole for All Juvenile, Non-Homicide Crimes," and here is how it starts and ends:
Last week, in Graham v. Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments bars the sentencing of juvenile offenders to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole ("LWOP") for non-homicide offenses. As I noted in an earlier column, such a decision stands in considerable tension with the Court's existing precedents. Accordingly, though the majority opinion does not explicitly depart from prior rulings, there is nonetheless reason to expect that the Court may now be more willing to entertain Eighth Amendment challenges to lengthy prison sentences than it has been in the past....
Just as imprisonment is different from death, then, there is much to distinguish different prison sentences from one another. The Supreme Court has now, laudably, recognized that LWOP can represent an excessively harsh sentence for at least one class of offenders and offenses. Its decision in Graham v. Florida thus provides hope that the harshness of prison sentences — and their relation, if any, to the seriousness of people's crimes — can once again become a fit subject of Eighth Amendment scrutiny in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Some recent related posts with my own Graham analysis:
- Doesn't the logic and language of Graham put juve LWOP for "lesser" homicides on thin ice?
- Strong arguments for second-look sentencing reforms from SCOTUS concurrences
- Hail to the Chief and the fascinating future of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence
- Graham crackers: reflecting on Eighth Amendment rules versus standard and subconstitutional echoes
- Originalist Graham crackers: would the Eighth Amendment ratifiers really be indifferent about LWOP?
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Did the Chief initially have (but then lose) Justice Alito's vote in Graham?
As my prior posts highlight, I am intrigued and taken by many aspects of the substance of Chief Justice Roberts' concurrence in the Graham Eighth Amendment case. But, in re-reading this opinion today, I was also intrigued and taken by a surprising pronoun in this paragraph from page 6 of the Chief's opinion:
JUSTICE THOMAS disagrees with even our limited reliance on Roper on the ground that the present case does not involve capital punishment. Post, at 26 (dissenting opinion). That distinction is important — indeed, it underlies our rejection of the categorical rule declared by the Court. But Roper’s conclusion that juveniles are typically less culpable than adults has pertinence beyond capital cases, and rightly informs the case-specific inquiry I believe to be appropriate here.
The use of the pronoun "our" in the two spots highlighted here suggests to me that, at some point, Chief Justice Roberts may have believed he had a fellow-traveler prepared to sign on to his separate concurring opinion finding Graham's sentence's unconstitutional based on "traditional" case-by-case proportionality review. I suppose it is possible that one of the five Justices in the Graham majority was the expected fellow-traveler, but I think it much more likely that Chief Justice Roberts was writing with the expectation that Justice Alito would be willing to join his opinion. My speculation seems supported by the fact that Justice Alito ultimately did not sign on to Parts II and IV of Justice Thomas's dissent in Graham (as well as Justice Alito's separate little opinion saying he ultimately did not think defendant Graham had properly presented/preserved a case-by-case proportionality attack on his sentence).
Of course, all we know for sure is what is will in the US Reports, so maybe I am reading too much into a royal pronoun. But it strikes me as a very interesting and quite important story for the future of noncapital Eighth Amendment jurisprudence if Justice Alito is largely in agreement with the substance of Chief Justice Roberts' approach to proportionality review. Specifically, it means that (assuming a Justice Kagan follows in the path of Justice Stevens) now there may be as many as 7 Justices prepared (and even eager?) to breathe significant new life into Eighth Amendment review of noncapital sentences.
Some recent related posts with Graham analysis:
- Graham crackers: reflecting on Eighth Amendment rules versus standard and subconstitutional echoes
- Doesn't the logic and language of Grahamput juve LWOP for "lesser" homicides on thin ice?
- Strong arguments for second-look sentencing reforms from SCOTUS concurrences
- Hail to the Chief and the fascinating future of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence
- Originalist Grahamcrackers: would the Eighth Amendment ratifiers really be indifferent about LWOP?