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October 21, 2010

Arguments made to Missouri Supreme Court against mandatory juve LWOP

This local article, which is headlined "Mo. high court is asked to end mandatory life sentences for young killers," reports on a notable effort to extend the Supreme Court's recent Eighth Amendment work in Graham (with dash of Blakely throw in for good measure).  Here are the details:

An attorney for a St. Louis teen, sentenced to spend his life in prison after he was convicted of killing police officer Norvelle Brown, argued Wednesday that juveniles should not receive automatic life sentences.

Attorney Brocca Smith said that for a juvenile, a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole is cruel and unusual punishment and urged the Missouri Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional.  Smith limited her argument to juveniles and only those who have received an automatic sentence of life without parole.

Missouri law requires people convicted of first-degree murder to be executed or sentenced to life in prison.  Smith said the problem with mandatory sentences is judges and juries cannot consider juveniles' age, maturity and other mitigating factors before deciding upon the punishment.  "Children are simply not as culpable as adults, and they can't be treated the same under the law," she said....

Missouri Supreme Court Judge Laura Denvir Stith, who was among the most active with her questioning during oral arguments Wednesday, said the next question with juveniles was whether it is acceptable to sentence teens to life automatically without evaluating each defendant....

Missouri Assistant Attorney General Evan Buchheim defended the life sentence Wednesday.  He told the state high court that nearly every state has lifetime prison sentences and that the U.S. Supreme Court specifically permitted life sentences for juveniles in murder cases.  Buchheim argued there is little difference whether the punishment is selected or required by state law.  "It seems to me to be the same thing — a mandatory life without parole sentence or a sentence of life without parole."...

Besides mandatory life sentences, the Missouri Supreme Court also was considering the constitutionality of the state's system for deciding whether juveniles should be prosecuted as adults.

Under Missouri law, juveniles are handled by special courts that focus on improving behavior and are not treated like criminal cases.  Children as young as 12, however, can be charged with a felony as an adult depending on the circumstances of the case.  A judge decides whether the defendant should be prosecuted as a juvenile or adult.

Smith argued Wednesday that decision should be made by a jury because the decision significantly affects the possible punishment.  The attorney general's office contends that a judge can decide whether a juvenile should be charged as an adult because juries only are required to decide the facts that affect criminal penalties.

Knowledgeable readers should recall that the Missouri Supreme Court was the first to decide a few years ago that all juve killers should be categorially prohibited from facing the death penalty, a decision that was affirmed by the Supreme Court in its 2005 Roperruling. It will be interesting to see if the same court might become a pace-setting in these other juve sentencing contexts.

October 21, 2010 at 08:50 AM | Permalink


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State institutions might begin to ignore Supreme Court decisions unless they have external validation, for example, scientific evidence, self-evident logic, or positive results in smaller venues. Daubert applies to evidence. It should begin to apply to law making, even the unauthorized law making of stare decisis. Validation at the point of a gun does not meet Daubert standards. That is the sole validation that exists for these Supreme Court decisions. Most are preposterous, harmful, expressions of personal bias, with no more external validation than the wine besotted ramblings of a bum on the street.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 21, 2010 11:02:13 PM

After life sentences will be prohibited, long sentences will be prohibited, then short sentences, then any sentence whatsoever.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 22, 2010 9:16:06 AM

yeah....speaking of wine besotted ramblings.

Posted by: mike | Oct 22, 2010 12:20:13 PM

Funny. In torts, children down to fetushood are held fully accountable. Where there is an insurance policy to pillage, the child is fully culpable. I bet the dumbass lawyers here are puzzled, thinking, so? What's the problem?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 22, 2010 10:12:38 PM

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