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November 30, 2012

Reviewing just some of the Miller meshugas in some states

The day after the Supreme Court's Miller ruling in June, I explained in this post why the ruling was making me meshuge, largely because I kept thinking of the Yiddish word meshugas to describe the challenges states and lower courts would be facing as they try to give effect to Miller's Eigth Amendment holding and implications for past, present and future cases.   This new commentary, headlined "The Cautionary Instruction: States scramble to deal with Supreme Court ruling on sentencing of juvenile killers," provides a review of just some of what's been going on in a few states. Here is an excerpt:

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the first state high court to test whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama, banning the mandatory imposition of life without parole for juvenile killers (JLWOP), is retroactive.... Pennsylvania has also passed S.B. 850 granting future convicted juvenile killers the chance for release after serving between 25 and 35 years, depending on the age of the killer at the time of the crime.

Pennsylvania leads the nation with about 450 offenders serving mandatory life sentences for offenses committed as juveniles.  Yet Pennsylvania is not the only state trying to adapt to the Miller decision.  There are 39 states with mandatory JLWOP and, apparently, 39 different ways to address Miller.

In Iowa, for instance, the governor commuted the life sentences of 38 people convicted of committing murder when they were juveniles.  In July, Governor Terry E. Branstad commuted the sentences but required inmates to serve a minimum of 60 years before being eligible for parole.  An Iowa judge later rebuked Branstad for ignoring the Supreme Court by not providing offenders any meaningful opportunity to obtain release....

In North Carolina, the legislature passed S.B. 635 replacing mandatory life for juveniles with “a minimum of 25 years imprisonment prior to becoming eligible for parole.”

A New Hampshire judge has given a convicted teen killer until January to file an expert witness report in his request for resentencing.  Another offender, who helped kill two Dartmouth College professors as a teenager, has also requested resentencing.

In Florida, at least two state appellate courts have ruled that Miller is not retroactive. Michigan’s attorney general has asked the state Supreme Court to declare that Miller is not retroactive, a decision that could affect over 300 inmates.  Nebraska’s Board of Pardons will consider requests for commutation filed by juvenile lifers.  Proposed legislation in Wyoming provides that juvenile lifers could become eligible for parole after 25 years behind bars.

This commentary is off a bit by saying there are 39 states with mandatory juve LWOP; I think that high state count includes those with discretionary LWOP schemes.  But, as has already proven true in Califortnia and a few other states, Miller is having an impact of some sort in all states with any juvenile offenders serving LWOP under any sentencing schemes.  And this commentary is spot on in highlighting that just about every state is developing its own shaky path for dealng with MillerThis new AP piece from Connecticut, for example, shows how yet another state is trying to work through these issues. The piece is headlined "Connecticut panel considering early parole for juveniles," and starts this way:

Some ex-offenders on Thursday urged a panel that makes recommendations to the General Assembly to give those convicted of serious crimes as juveniles a second chance at life by offering them an opportunity for an earlier parole.

But in an emotional plea, a Norwich man whose wife and son were murdered by a 15-year-old boy in 1993, told members of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission that such a proposal would ultimately be unfair to the victims. "I'm for giving any kid a second break. But if you give him a break," said John Cluny, referring to his family’s killer, "you bring my 14-year-old son and wife back to life."

The commission, whose membership includes the state’s top prosecutor and public defender, held a hearing at the Legislative Office Building on a series of proposals it is considering recommending to the General Assembly, which convenes in January.

Judge Joseph Shortall, chairman of the commission, said the panel is looking at the issue of giving people who were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms as juveniles a chance at early parole because the U.S. Supreme Court has required the state give these offenders "a meaningful opportunity" sometime during their sentence to seek release, but not necessarily to be released. "We as a commission are required to consider how we can implement that requirement of the Supreme Court," Shortall said.

November 30, 2012 at 10:23 AM | Permalink


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The cruelty inflicted on Mr. Cluny is the direct result of the lawless Supreme Court. I am sure they are proud of themselves.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 1, 2012 2:27:48 AM

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