Daily Digest, 1/30/13, The Developing Brain

Let the fight over Graham begin.

Last term, in Miller, the United States Supreme Court held that, in addressing this complicated issue, policymakers can no longer prescribe mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles, even for the most serious homicide offenses.

State v. Riley, 140 Conn.App. 1, 2013 WL 9883 (Conn.App. 2013).

The court says:

“The defendant’s sentence of 100 years imprisonment, functionally a sentence of life without the possibility of release, did not violate the Eighth Amendment.”

The defendant was sentenced to 100 years imprisonment. Although the sentence imposed was not mandatory, the defendant claims that, in order to comply with the logic underpinning the holding in Miller, he is entitled to a resentencing procedure in which the court will be required not only to consider his youth and any attendant deficiencies, but also to articulate on the record that it has done so. The defendant further claims that, if the court were again to impose a life without parole sentence, it must explain why such a severe sentence was appropriate despite his age. The court declined to adopt this interpretation of Miller, holding instead that the court exercised discretion in fashioning the defendant’s sentence, and was free to consider any mitigating evidence the defendant was able to marshal, including evidence pertaining to his age and maturity. Consequently, the court affirmed judgment of the trial court.

The dissent, was a lengthy homage to brain science in juvenile sentencing:

The dissent claims that Roper, Graham, and Miller, were “based on a body of science regarding the juvenile brain that the [Supreme Court] considered as reliable and authoritative.”

The dissent explains that the defendant “will die in prison without the sentencing court having taken into account the available science regarding the juvenile brain, and without any future review, based on that science, of the possibility of his having matured and rehabilitated himself.” He argues that this constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The dissent reads Miller as a requirement that the court do two things:

“(1) take into account—by presentation from the state or the defendant, or both—the factors that distinguish the juvenile brain from the adult brain regarding the juvenile’s diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change, and (2) take into account how those factors counsel against sentencing the juvenile irrevocably to die in prison.

About Nita A. Farahany

Professor of Law and Philosophy, Professor of Genome Sciences and Policy
This entry was posted in Neuroscience. Bookmark the permalink.

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