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September 21, 2010

Split Sixth Circuit upholds federal mandatory LWOP sentence based on priors committed when a juve

In a case involving another defendant named Graham, a split panel of the Sixth Circuit has upheld a mandatory minimum LWOP sentence against a challenge that seeks to extend the reach of the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment work in Graham v. Florida.  Here is how the majority opinion (per Judge Moore) in US v. Graham, No. 08-5993 (6th Cir. Sept. 21, 2010) (available here) gets started:

Donald Graham, convicted of three counts of a seven-count indictment for crack-cocaine offenses under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846 and 18 U.S.C. § 2, appeals from the district court’s denial of his Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 motion for a judgment of acquittal, denial of his motion to disregard life sentence, and sentencing decision.  Graham’s main contention on appeal is that his life sentence, imposed for his third qualifying felony under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Finding no reversible error, we affirm the district court’s rulings on Graham’s motions and his life sentence.

Here is how the dissenting opinion (per Judge Merritt) gets started:

My view in this case of first impression in this Circuit is that the sentencing of this nonviolent, 30-year-old petty drug trafficker to life imprisonment by using a juvenile conviction as a necessary third strike not only violates clear congressional intent revealed by clear rules of statutory construction but also violates sound principles of penological policy based on the Eighth Amendment values recently outlined by the Supreme Court in Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010).  I would have preferred that my colleagues in the majority acknowledge and address the arguments made here against the use of a juvenile conviction to send this nonviolent drug offender to prison for life.  Instead they have chosen to ignore those arguments.  I leave it to the readers to determine for themselves the usefulness and credibility of this kind of appellate decision making.

September 21, 2010 at 10:11 AM | Permalink


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Multiply $26K * 40 yrs = $1,040,000, this is ridiculous....(assuming he lives lives to be 70) Nobody should do life for the 3 strikes law.....It has these little prongs and if you qualify, you get life.

Congress and their super Lawyers need to get a job and a life.....Thye haven't been cutting it for 2 decades, for sure...

Posted by: Abe | Sep 21, 2010 1:18:05 PM

Abe's right about Congress, which continues to distinguish itself as a costly, destructive jobs program.

Judge Merritt, on the other hand, distinguished himself as a thinking, fair-minded, independent judge...as opposed to a agent of the brotherhood of arch-conservative collusive powers.

Posted by: John K | Sep 22, 2010 11:58:40 AM

aN agent

Posted by: John K | Sep 22, 2010 11:59:11 AM

I am reminded of that truism from the SCOTUS of an earlier age: "If you can do it to anybody you can do it to anybody." Hmmm? Truth doesn't change , does it?

Posted by: Throsso | Sep 26, 2010 2:32:26 PM

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