The Supreme Court is poised to resolve a split in the circuits regarding its landmark 2012 decision which ruled that life sentences for juvenile offenders, when there is no possibility of parole, are unconstitutional.
Writing for the majority in Miller v. Alabama, Justice Elena Kagan said that these sentences violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments, since it “precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.” Three other conservative justices joined Chief Justice John Roberts in a vigorous dissent. He called these sentences a policy matter which should be decided by individual states.
Since then, courts have divided over whether or not Miller should be retroactive. In other words, are those persons who received a life-without-parole sentence when they were juveniles entitled to have their sentences reconsidered, or does Miller only apply to post-2012 convictions?
The high court is expected to rule on Toca v. Louisiana sometime next year.
Sentencing in a Juvenile Case
Supreme courts in Texas Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, and New Hampshire have applied Miller retroactively. Unlike the federal system, the Lone Star State does not have established guidelines which prescribe specific sentences in specific instances. Instead, the judge or jury can consider a wide range of factors when passing sentence on a convicted individual, including:
- Facts of the Case: There is typically a one-to-one relationship between behavior and punishment. The worse the crime, the harsher the sentence. Experienced criminal defense attorneys in Denton may not be able to filter out all the bad facts, but they can usually at least filter some of them.
- Remorse: Nearly all defendants are sorry they got caught, and this level or remorse has little or no effect on judicial decision-makers. But defendants who show they are sorry by voluntarily making life changes, paying close attention to the proceedings and showing some evidence of grief may be seen in a more favorable light.
- Criminal History: Criminal background is generally not admissible in the trial but may be admissible during sentencing. If the defendant has a good explanation for a criminal past, the judge or jury is generally willing to listen.
- Responsibility: Once the trial is over, juries like to see defendants who “man up” and accept responsibility for their actions.
Any error in the sentencing process, whether it be an incorrect ruling from the bench or an inaccurate application of existing law, can be grounds for an appeal.
Contact us for a free consultation with an attorney who fights for a fair sentence