Florida’s criminal appeals and criminal defense attorneys who represent juvenile offenders should be aware of an opinion released by the Florida Supreme Court on October 10, 2013. In Treacy v. Lamberti, SC12-647, the court reversed the 4th DCA’s denial of Treacy’s petition for writ of habeas corpus. In his petition, Treacy argued that since he could not be punished to life imprisonment for the offense charged, attempted murder, in light of Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), he was entitled to bond. The 4th DCA rejected his contentions not once, but twice. Only on appeal to the Florida Supreme Court did Treacy finally win the relief he sought- the right to be entitled to bond. This is a fairly straightforward opinion, so there’s not much for me to do other than pass it along, and urge you to keep this opinion handy for future reference.
The Sun Sentinel ran a good story today that I wanted to pass along to other criminal defense and criminal appellate lawyers in South Florida. Martin James Malone fled to Ecuador before a jury convicted him of federal drug charges in 1990. According to the story, Malone made good use of his time while on the lam, acting as a “medicine, man” contractor, and overall good samaritan. His story is a great example of how people can make a change for the better after getting into trouble. Since even the prosecutor reportedly noted that Malone played a very small role in the 1989 cocaine-importing conspiracy, let’s hope that Judge Zloch’s sentencing will be fair.
Also today, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in Miller v. Alabama, No. 10-9646, where it held that “mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments.’” In its rationale, the Court relied heavily on two other juvenile cases, one of which hits close to home for Florida’s criminal defense lawyers: Roper v. Simmons, 543 U. S. 551, 560, (2005) (invalidating death penalty for all juvenile offenders under 18), and Graham v. Florida, 560 U. S. –, (2010) (holding that life without parole violates the Eighth Amendment when imposed on juvenile nonhomicide offenders). As you’re reading the majority opinion, be sure not to skip the footnotes, as several point out the flaws in the dissenter’s analysis. I especially like footnotes 6, 8, and 10.
It’s not every day that a convicted person gets the chance to walk free from prison after being sentenced to life without parole, but that’s exactly what two local criminal Defendants have asked a local court to allow them to do. As reported by both the Sun Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post, defendants David Slocum and Emmanuel Paul argued to Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Edward Garrison that he erred in 1995 when he sentenced the two of them, who were 16 years old at the time, to life in prison for raping an individual named Jenny Clark, a 17 year-old student from Switzerland. At a hearing conducted on Tuesday, November 21, 2011, the court took testimony and listened to argument of counsel. Rather than ruling from the bench, the Court has reset the matter for continued hearings on December 15 and 16, 2011.
Although not named in the article, the case most likely relied on by Defendants Slocum and Paul is Graham v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010), wherein the United States Supreme Court held that sentencing a juvenile to life imprisonment without parole for a non-homicide offense violates the Eighth Amendment. Interestingly, Graham originated from Florida’s state courts. When Graham was 16, he and several other youths attempted to rob a barbecue restaurant in Jacksonville. Graham and one of his accomplices struck the restaurant manager in the head with a metal bar, but then fled after the manager started yelling. The manager required stitches, and no money was taken. Graham was charged as an adult, and was given a combination of county jail time and probation. Unfortunately for Graham, he was arrested again for two more robberies only six months later. After considering the evidence as to the violations of probation and the new charges, the court ultimately sentenced Graham to life imprisonment. Because Florida abolished its parole system in 2003, Graham was only be eligible for release if he were granted clemency. Graham filed a motion challenging his sentence under the Eighth Amendment, but the trial court denied it. The First DCA affirmed the denial, again finding no violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Graham v. State, 982 So.2d 43 (Fla 1st DCA 2008). The Florida Supreme Court declined review.
Although long, the United States Supreme Court opinion is an interesting read because, like many sentencing opinions, it contains a lot of empirical data from around the country and from other nations. Sadly, the Court noted that of the 123 juvenile nonhomicide offenders serving sentences of life without parole, 77 were serving sentences imposed in Florida. In support of its holding that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole for a non-homicide offense violates the Eighth Amendment, the Court reasoned that (1) because juveniles have lessened culpability they are less deserving of the most severe punishments; (2) life without parole is “the second most severe penalty permitted by law;” (3) juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole will, on average, serve more years and a greater percentage of their lives in prison than adult offenders; (4) sentencing a juvenile to life without parole for a non-homicide offense lacks “any legitimate penological justification” and is therefore disproportionate to the offense; and, (5) none of the traditional reasons justifying life without parole for adults (deterrence, retribution, rescidivism/incapacitation, and rehabilitation) apply to juveniles who commit non-homicidal offenses. Because sentencing a juvenile who committed a non-homicide offense to life without parole “improperly denies the juvenile offender a chance to demonstrate growth and maturity,” the Court held that States must “give defendants like Graham some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”
How the States comply with the Graham directive to provide a “realistic opportunity to obtain release” was left open by the Graham opinion. The cases of Slocum and Paul would seem to be a real-time application of Graham.
In the case of Kenneth Loggins v. Thomas, No. 09-13267, 2011 WL 3903402 (11th Cir. Sept. 7, 2011), the Eleventh Circuit held that sentencing a person to life without parole for committing a homicide while under the age of 18 (a juvenile) does not violate the United States Constitution. While the 61 page opinion is lengthy, the Court dealt with some important issues.
As for the facts, a word of warning: the murder, which Loggins and several friends committed when he was 17, is quite brutal, and the Eleventh does not hold back in its description of the crime. Loggins’ original sentence of death was reversed in light of the United States Supreme Court opinion of Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) (holding that it is unconstitutional to execute criminals who were under the age of 18 when they committed their crimes). After Loggins was resentenced to life without parole, he appealed that sentence, arguing that the sentence was unconstitutional. Loggins lost all his appeals in the Alabama state courts, and eventually filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under section 2254 in Federal Court, raising the same issue. The District Court denied Loggins’ 2254 petition, and he appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.
The Court’s analysis of the core issue, the constitutionality of a sentence of life without parole for the crime of homicide committed while a juvenile, begins on page 35. Although Loggins argued that there was a national and international consensus against such a sentence, the Court quickly rejected such arguments based on some interesting criminal sentencing statistics. As a Florida criminal appeals attorney, I was saddened to read, on page 45, that Florida stands out as the State that has the highest number of people sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide crimes committed while the people were juveniles. Out of the 123 inmates imprisoned nationwide, 77 are imprisoned in Florida.
In addition to the main issue of the constitutionality of the sentence of life without parole, the Loggins opinion is also worth reading because it contains a good discussion of other issues that arise in 2254 habeas proceedings, such as the deference owed to State court decisions, whether claims were adjudicated on the merits, what constitutes clearly established federal law, and retroactivity.