Monday, May 17, 2010


The Supreme Court voted today 5-4 that it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison for crimes in which they have not committed murder.

We haven't had time to read the opinion in full, so our normal witty insightful comments will be posted later today/tonight.

Suffice to say that Justice Thomas dissented along with Justice Sam "Hang em all" Alito and that great friend to criminal defense (according to Fed Blogger David Markus) Justice Scalia. While we haven't read the entire dissent, according to Thomas, the original intent of the framers was the keelhauling and stoning were appropriate sentences, so how in the world could a cushy prison cell be cruel and unusual?

More later.


Anonymous said...

You say 5-4 in Graham v. Florida was a 5-4 decision? I say 6-3.

-Opinion of the Court by Kennedy, joined by Stevens, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Breyer.
-Roberts Concurring in the judgment of the Court, but not the analysis.
-Thomas, Alito, and Scalia dissenting.

If Roberts concurred, even on a different legal theory, isn't this a 6-3, and not a 5-4.

Fact is, had for example, Sotomayor gone with the dissent, the case would have had the same result. Graham's life sentence would have been overturned. So, 6-3, and not 5-4.

CAPTAIN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CAPTAIN said...


Actually a 6-3 decision Rumpy ...

CJ Roberts concurs with the majority opinion of the court. Only three dissenters here.

Roberts states:

"I agree with the Court that Terrance Graham’s sentence of life without parole violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments.” Unlike the majority, however, I see no need to invent a new constitutional rule of dubious provenance in reaching that conclusion. Instead, my analysis is based on an application of this Court’s precedents, in particular (1) our cases requiring “narrow proportionality” review of noncapital sentences and (2) our conclusion in Roper v. Simmons, 543
U. S. 551 (2005), that juvenile offenders are generally less culpable than adults who commit the same crimes."

He concludes:

"Terrance Graham committed serious offenses, for which he deserves serious punishment. But he was only 16 years old, and under our Court’s precedents, his youth is one factor, among others, that should be considered in deciding whether his punishment was unconstitutionally excessive. In my view, Graham’s age—together with the nature of his criminal activity and the unusual severity of his sentence — tips the constitutional balance. I thus concur in the Court’s judgment that Graham’s sentence of life without parole violated the Eighth Amendment.

I would not, however, reach the same conclusion in every case involving a juvenile offender. Some crimes are so heinous, and some juvenile offenders so highly culpable, that a sentence of life without parole may be entirely justified under the Constitution. As we have said, “successful challenges” to noncapital sentences under the Eighth Amendment have been — and, in my view, should continue to be —“exceedingly rare.” Rummel, 445 U. S., at 272. But Graham’s sentence presents the exceptional case that our precedents have recognized will come along. We should grant Graham the relief to which he is entitled under the Eighth Amendment. The Court errs, however, in using this case as a vehicle for unsettling our established jurisprudence and fashioning a categorical rule applicable to far different cases."

Cap Out ....

Anonymous said...

The Court should just addressed the order to:

Dear, Florida Legislator (AKA) Nutjobs! Please see attached order!

What bothers me is why did the Florida Supreme Court not make the same ruling.

Whats the appeal history of this case.

Anonymous said...

Once again a Kennedy opinion assumes the role of super legislature. Now we will all spend the next twenty years debating how long is to long a sentence for the oracles on high.

CAPTAIN said...


to 8:43 PM. The history of the case:

The case began in the Felony Trial Court in Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida. His original crimes were committed at age 16 and the State direct filed the case. After the trial court Judge sentenced Graham to Life, he filed a Motion challenging that sentence with the trial court citing 8th amendment grounds. The Motion was denied.

The case was appealed to the 1st DCA which Affirmed the trial court. The case was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which denied review. The case was then appealed directly to the United States Supreme Court.

Cap Out ....

Anonymous said...

Captain, Your 9:50 post is missing what some may consider a rather important part of the procedural history in Graham's case. It wasn't just a direct-file followed by a life sentence. As Justice Kennedy explains in his opinion, following the direct file "Graham pleaded guilty to both charges under a plea agreement....The court withheld adjudication of guilt as to both charges and sentenced Graham to concurrent 3-year terms of probation." While still on probation, and when he was 17 years and 11 months old, Graham and two others perpetrated a home invasion robbery. Later that same evening, Graham and his cohorts attempted a second robbery. Graham crashed his car at high speed when trying to flee from the second robbery. When caught, Graham admitted to committing two or three other robberies. In a probation revocation proceeding, the court found that Graham had violated his probation by fleeing, by committing a home invasion robbery, by possessing a firearm, and by associating with persons engaged in criminal activity. Only then did the trial court adjudicate Graham on his original charges and sentence him to life.

Anonymous said...

Three observations about Chief Justice Roberts:

1. Although he tends have a conservative view, he is not a hardcore conservative a la Scalia, Thomas and Alito. He obviously has a great respect for past precedent and will follow it.

2. He is extremely intelligent; one can see why he was regarded as one of the top appellate lawyers in the country before taking the bench.

3. However, he tends to lose the forest for the trees--his opinions focus solely on the matter and hand, and he either ignores or fails to realize the larger consequences of his decisions.

Anonymous said...

11:22 - I think Batman said that on May 17 at 12:25 p.m. See "A win for Florida" comments section.

Anonymous said...

Because of my scholarly limitations I have been forced to view supreme court decisions from a different perspective. I believe that this is the first time Roberts has sided with an individual. Every other one of his calls has been strikes for government or corporate pitches. Even in this case he still couldn't bring himself to side completely against his beloved big brother.