Recent Legal Rulings
*Remember that AOJ is an advocate for all criminal justice reform issues in the state - ALL lifers and those with long term sentences (adults and juveniles).
The Texas Court of Criminal of
Appeals, the highest criminal court in the state, ruled in Ex Parte Terrell Maxwell that Miller v. Alabama, which struck down mandatory
life-without-parole sentences for children, applies to those sentenced prior to
when the Court issued its decision in June 2012. The court held that Miller created
a substantive rule, meeting the federal legal standard to apply the decision
retroactively. As a result, approximately 20 people currently serving
mandatory life without parole for crimes committed as youth will be
On the same day, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in State v. Long that Miller, which requires
individualized sentencing of youth facing life-without-parole sentences, applies
to discretionary life-without-parole sentences imposed on
children as well. Specifically, the court held that in any case where a youth
is given a life-without-parole sentence, the sentencing court record must separately and explicitly
reflect exactly how the court considered the person's youth as a mitigating
factor in determining that a life without parole sentence is justified. This
ruling ensures that the unique characteristics of children are given
significant weight in favor of the defendant in sentencing decisions.
Arkansas Supreme Court - Jackson v. Norris
Today the Arkansas Supreme Court handed down its decision in the juvenile life without parole case involving Kuntrell Jackson. Last year the US Supreme Court ruled mandatory life without parole violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments without first considering mitigating factors such as the defendant's age, and remanded the case back to the Arkansas Supreme Court. This court ruled that while capital murder is a Class Y felony, the sentence is not a mandatory life imprisonment without parole, but instead a "discretionary" sentencing range of not less than 10 years and not more than forty years, or life. The court remanded the case back to the Mississippi County Circuit Court with those instructions for re-sentencing.
House Bill 1993/Act 1490
Additionally, there was a bill (HB1993/Act 1490) filed in reaction to the US Supreme Court's ruling on Miller v. Alabama. This bill signed into law by the Arkansas governor sets the juvenile capital murder sentence at LWOP or life with the possibility of parole after serving a minimum of 28 years. Of course, two things we don't like about this bill is that it is not retroactive and it leaves LWOP on the table, bypassing the mandatory minimum sentencing issue the US Court had with Miller. However, it creates a parole-able life sentence which again is a step in the right direction.
California SB 9 on Governor Brown's Desk
Today a proposed bill was submitted to California Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.
Under Senate Bill 9 (the Fair Sentencing of Youth Act), courts could review cases of juveniles sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) after 15 years potentially allowing some individuals to receive a new minimum sentence of 25 years to life. The bill would require the offender to show remorse and be working towards rehabilitation in order to submit a petition fo reconsideration of the new sentence. If a new sentence is granted and the inmate is then eligible for parole, they still must go before the Parole Board and demonstrate rehabilitation and a detailed plan for re-entry. But at least now juveniles have some room for hope.
The reason this is important is (1) California doesn't fall under Miller v. Alabama (juvenile LWOP ruled unconstitutional) because California doesn't have mandatory sentencing and (2) courts and judges look to other states who have set a legal precedent.
Everyone is urged to contact their friends and family in California and ask them to call the governor's office in support of this bill. He has until September 30 to sign or veto the bill. This bill has been supported by law enforcement, faith-based groups, child advocates, mental health and medical professionals.
Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramenta, CA 95814
Supreme Court declares execution law unconstitutional
The Arkansas Supreme Court sided with 10 death row inmates who argued that the 2009 execution law violated part of the state's constitution that deals with separating the branches of government.
The 2009 law says death sentences are to be carried out by lethal injection of one or more
chemicals that the director of the Department of Correction chooses. The law
also says that in the event that the lethal injection section is found to be
unconstitutional, death sentences will be carried out by electrocution.
That option doesn't seem likely. An Arkansas history museum has the state's two electric chairs in storage. No one has used electrocution for many years because it comes under scrutiny as cruel and unusual. In any case, the state hasn't put anyone to death since 2005.
According to Gov. Beebe, "the death penalty is still the law in Arkansas, but the Department of Correction now has no legal way to carry out an execution until a new statute is established."
US Supreme Court makes landmark ruling on plea deals
The U.S. Supreme Court
ruled that a defendant’s conviction may be voided if they turn down a plea
bargain because of incompetent legal advice. In its ruling, the 11th
Circuit cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s March decisions in two different cases:
Missouri v. Frye and Lafler v. Cooper.
The Sixth Amendment of
the US Constitution gives a defendant a right to a fair trial. The US
Supreme Court ruled that this right also includes a right to an effective
lawyer during plea bargaining negotiations. The Supreme Court argued that had
the lawyers counseled the defendants well, they would have taken the shorter
sentence. To win a challenge under this new standard, a defendant must show
that with effective counsel, he would have taken a plea offer, the judge would
have approved it and the deal would have been more favorable than the actual case's
outcome. As such, US Supreme Court case law has changed the plea bargaining
process from unregulated negotiations to a procedure under judicial scrutiny.