With all the hub-bub recently about Graham v. Florida, I thought I should blog it. Spoke with a client today that retained an attorney I work for. Her son is one of the few inmates (7 total per media reports) in Iowa that is affected by the case. It is a very positive outlook for kids that committed crimes before they could really experience life and make adult decisions based on those experiences.
Here is an excerpt from the case:
Petitioner Graham was 16 when he committed armed burglary and another crime. Under a plea agreement, the Florida trial court sen-tenced Graham to probation and withheld adjudication of guilt. Sub-sequently, the trial court found that Graham had violated the termsof his probation by committing additional crimes. The trial court ad-judicated Graham guilty of the earlier charges, revoked his proba-tion, and sentenced him to life in prison for the burglary. Because Florida has abolished its parole system, the life sentence left Graham no possibility of release except executive clemency. He challenged his sentence under the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Pun-ishments Clause, but the State First District Court of Appeal af-firmed.
Held: The Clause does not permit a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life in prison without parole for a nonhomicide crime.
(a) Embodied in the cruel and unusual punishments ban is the “precept . . . that punishment for crime should be graduated and pro-portioned to [the] offense.” Weems v. United States, 217 U. S. 349, 367. The Court’s cases implementing the proportionality standardfall within two general classifications. In cases of the first type, theCourt has considered all the circumstances to determine whether the length of a term-of-years sentence is unconstitutionally excessive fora particular defendant’s crime. The second classification comprisescases in which the Court has applied certain categorical rules againstthe death penalty. In a subset of such cases considering the nature of the offense, the Court has concluded that capital punishment is im-permissible for nonhomicide crimes against individuals. E.g., Ken-nedy v. Louisiana, 554 U. S. ___, ___. In a second subset, cases turn-ing on the offender’s characteristics, the Court has prohibited death for defendants who committed their crimes before age 18, Roper v. Simmons, 543 U. S. 551, or whose intellectual functioning is in a low range, Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304. In cases involving categori-cal rules, the Court first considers “objective indicia of society’s stan-dards, as expressed in legislative enactments and state practice” to determine whether there is a national consensus against the sentenc-ing practice at issue. Roper, supra, at 563. Next, looking to “thestandards elaborated by controlling precedents and by the Court’sown understanding and interpretation of the Eighth Amendment’s text, history, meaning, and purpose,” Kennedy, supra, at ___, the Court determines in the exercise of its own independent judgment whether the punishment in question violates the Constitution, Roper, supra, at 564. Because this case implicates a particular type of sen-tence as it applies to an entire class of offenders who have committeda range of crimes, the appropriate analysis is the categorical ap-proach used in Atkins, Roper, and Kennedy.
(b) Application of the foregoing approach convinces the Court thatthe sentencing practice at issue is unconstitutional.
The basic tenet of this case is that if the defendant is under 18 years of age a sentence of more than fifty years (in most jurisdictions) cannot be applied. The sentence must also be paroleable in some fashion.
The nature of the issue is one of Cruel and Unusual punishment which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.
Good news for juvenile offenders. A thumbs up to the US S Ct for this one.
The bad part of this decision is that alot of families on both sides will be going through the same emotional breakdowns that came with the guilty pleas and trials that convicted their children. It is hard for those that lost loved ones to the crimes as well as those whose loved ones are incarcerated without hope of release. Now that the light of hope shines, those emotions will flare again.
To all of you who experience it, just take it one step at a time.
To those of you who may have a loved one affected by the decision, feel free to drop me an email for referral to a very good PCR attorney who can assist with motioning the court for relief.