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Miller v. Alabama in California

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In Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court held that laws prescribing a mandatory sentence of life without parole for murders committed when the perpetrator was under 18 are not permitted.  The judge must be able to exercise discretion.

The first thing that should have been obvious is that the case makes no change in the states where the LWOP sentence is discretionary and not mandatory.  In footnote 10, the opinion lists California Penal Code §109.5(b) as an example of a discretionary statute.  Clear as crystal, right?

Never underestimate the ability of result-oriented judges to misconstrue the clearest of holdings.  People v. Moffett, A133032A, involved the sentence of an armed robber just barely short of the threshold of 18.  He was a major participant in the robbery and threatened victims with death at gunpoint.  His accomplice murdered Police Officer Larry Lasater, for which he was sentenced to death.  The trial judge was well aware she had discretion, considered all the circumstances of the case, and decided life without parole was the appropriate sentence.  The Court of Appeal reversed, based not on the actual holding of Miller but on some of Justice Kagan's overly expansive language and its perception of the "spirit" of the decision.

The Attorney General should seek California Supreme Court review of this decision, and that court should emphatically reverse.

Bob Egelko has this story in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Officer Lassiter's mother has a comment to the story under the name "mom257."

1 Comment

This is the sum total of Moffett's ""analysis" that essentially holdis California's presumption of LWOP in an otherwise death eligible murder is unconstitutional. Personally, when the law has to resort to the spirit of something, it is because the argument is weak.

"A presumption in favor of LWOP, such as that applied in this case, is contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of Miller, which cautions that LWOP sentences should be ―uncommon‖ given the ―great difficulty. . . of distinguishing at this early age between ̳the juvenile offender whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity, and the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.‘ ‖ (Miller, supra, 567 U.S. at p. ___ [132 S.Ct. at p. 2469].) Though Miller did not categorically bar LWOP sentences in juvenile homicide cases, it recognizes that juveniles are different from adults in ways that ―counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.‖ (Ibid.) Treating LWOP as the default sentence takes the premise in Miller that such sentences should be rarities and turns that premise on its head, instead placing the burden on a youthful defendant to affirmatively demonstrate that he or she deserves an opportunity for parole."

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