On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard an oral argument about what states should do before imposing a life sentence without the possibility of parole defendants who were under the age of 18 when they committed their crimes. After about an hour and a half of oral arguments over the phone, it was not clear how the judges would resolve the case. Many judges seemed to believe that what a Mississippi judge had done in the Brett Jones case, who was convicted of stabbing his grandfather in 2004, was enough. Other judges expressed broader concerns about the case, while others suggested that Jones should challenge his sentence through an entirely different path.
Representing Jones, who was 15 when he committed his crime and is now in his 30s, attorney David Shapiro told judges that two of their decisions – the 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama2016, which prohibits mandatory life imprisonment without conditional release of minors Montgomery v Louisiana, Hold that MillerThe ban on mandatory life sentences without parole takes effect retroactively – proves that only juveniles unable to rehabilitate can be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in a scheme that gives rulers the discretion to impose such penalties. In the Jones case, Shapiro argued that the Mississippi Supreme Court had misinterpreted the matter Miller And the Montgomery Required, until a pre-trial judge does not assess whether Jones is unable to compensate. Shapiro argued that the Supreme Court should apply this “stable law” by sending the Jones case back to the state courts to decide the crucial question: Is Jones “permanently invalid”?
Several judges pressured Shapiro to explain exactly what he wanted the courts to do and say before imposing life in prison without parole. Chief Justice John Roberts, who conducted the interrogation in the form used in the telephone arguments, had a series of questions on this point. “What exactly are you looking for?” Asked Shapiro.
Shapiro replied that Jones was not looking for “magic words” but instead wanted a judge who would understand the main investigation – whether the defendant was permanently irreparable – and applied it correctly. Shapiro told Roberts that you can usually assume that the judge has reached a “tacit conclusion” that the defendant is permanently irreparable if you assume the judge knows the law and applies it.
Roberts responded, stating that at the sentencing hearing in Jones, his lawyer had argued about “irreparable corruption” and that the judge had indicated Miller Before concluding that Jones had no right to indulge. The problem, Roberts asked, was that the judge did not quote enough clips Miller? “I’m not sure what he’s said isn’t enough,” said Roberts a few minutes later. (Roberts was taking a different stance with Chrissy Noble, the deputy attorney general representing Mississippi, telling her that Jones “didn’t seem like he’s been asking for much” – just one sentence stating MillerFollowed by another sentence that says what the judge found.)
Judge Sonia Sotomayor echoed Roberts’ question to Shapiro. Here, I noticed, the judge said he looked Miller And its factors, including its irreparability. Why is this not the beginning and the end of this affair, Sotomayor asked?
The judge also questioned Brett Kavanaugh Shapiro on this point. Kavanaugh asked, do you agree that the judge does not have to come to a specific conclusion that the defendant is incapable of rehabilitation? When Shapiro agreed that formal results were not required, Kavanaugh asked him to distinguish between the formal result and the informal one. And when the judgment scheme is discretionary, Kavanaugh assumed, wouldn’t the judge usually come to an informal conclusion because the defendant’s attorney would raise the issue of his youth, which would “really be the focus” of the decision?
Shapiro responded that it was not sufficient to consider the defendant to be a young man. The judge must also determine whether the defendant is unable to recover – a decision that the judge did not make in the Jones case.
Judge Samuel Alito was skeptical, but for a different reason. holding on MillerAnd Shapiro pointed out, that the Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory schemes for life without parole for juveniles, while Montgomery I kept this Miller Retrospectively applied. Alito suggested that these two holdings create a judgment much narrower than Jones advocates.
Alito also had deeper concerns. What do you say to members of the court who are concerned that the court’s jurisprudence has deviated “light years from the original meaning of the Eighth Amendment” and “are reluctant to go further?” Asked Shapiro.
Judge Neil Gorsuch noted that the court’s decision in Montgomery It may have “expanded and created a new objective right” rather than simply deciding whether it was Miller Retrospectively applied. If this is true, Gorsuch continued, the court would no longer need to determine whether this right was established Miller Retroactively? Perhaps somewhat to Shapiro’s amazement, he asked Gorsuch afterward Tig vs. Lin, A 1989 Supreme Court decision stating that the new rules of criminal procedure do not generally apply to collateral review cases. Gorsh concluded what power do we have to review the final rulings of the state in this way?
Judge Amy Connie Barrett indicated Jones had to bring a different challenge. Instead of challenging the procedure used to sentence him to life in prison without parole, I asked Shapiro, why didn’t Jones instead argue that such a sentence in his case violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment?
Shapiro replied that such a challenge would only succeed with a judge who understands that the criterion for a life sentence without parole is whether Jones is permanently irreparable.
Judge Stephen Breyer had a similar question to Nobile. if Miller And the Montgomery Establishing an objective rule that a juvenile must be considered permanently irreparable before he is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, he asked, why does this case not end? Breyer noted that if the judge discussed the factors that should be balanced, then he simply did not correct the substantive law.
Noble (as well as Frederick Liu, an assistant attorney general who argued on behalf of the United States in support of Mississippi) answered questions from some of the justices about how Miller It can create an objective rule and thus apply retrospectively, as Judge Elena Cagan explained, if it is reduced to “only ensuring that a certain type of process is accomplished” – the requirement that young people be taken into account in determining whether a defendant should receive life without a conditional ruling.
Nobel replied Miller It established an objective rule because it “is based on protection against gross, disproportionate punishment”.
Kavanaugh continued Kagan’s question by telling Nobile that “the key paragraph is in Montgomery Some say that the lack of need to find out the facts conflicts with the conclusion that Miller Is a fundamental rule. ”Kavanaugh continued that if that was the case, doesn’t the only solution“ only require discovering the fact that the defendant is irreparable ”?
Shapiro concluded by telling the judges unequivocally that Jones had not asked them to require the judges to use official “magic words” before sentencing the juveniles to life in prison without parole. Instead, Jones only emphasized that the judge should understand that children of salvation cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole. “We’re not asking for much,” Shapiro begged.
A decision on the case is expected sometime next year.
This post was originally published on Howe in court.
Argument analysis: Judges discuss the requirements for life sentences,
Scotus Blog (November 3, 2020, 5:04 pm), https://www.scotusblog.com/2020/11/argument-analysis-justices-debate-requirements-for-life-sentences-for-juveniles/