October 24, 2017

Colorado Supreme Court: Graham and Miller Do Not Apply to Aggregate Term-of-Years Sentences

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Armstrong v. People on Tuesday, May 30, 2017.

Life without parole—Juveniles—Eighth Amendment.

The supreme court considered whether Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on juvenile defendants convicted of multiple offenses. For reasons discussed at length in the lead companion case, Lucero v. People, 2017 CO 49, __ P.3d __, announced the same day, the court held that Graham and Miller do not apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed for multiple offenses. The court therefore held that Graham and Miller do not apply to Armstrong’s aggregate term-of-years sentence. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: No Constitutional Violation for Juvenile’s Aggregate Term-of-Years Sentence for Multiple Violations

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Estrada-Huerta v. People on Monday, May 22, 2017.

Life without parole—Juveniles—Eighth Amendment.

The supreme court considered whether Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on juvenile defendants convicted of multiple offenses. For reasons discussed at length in the lead companion case, Lucero v. People, 2017 CO 49, __ P.3d __, announced the same day, the court held that Graham and Miller do not apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed for multiple offenses. The Court therefore held that Graham and Miller do not apply to Estrada-Huerta’s aggregate term-of-years sentence. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Life Without Parole Sentence for Juvenile Remanded for Montgomery Evaluation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wilder on Thursday, February 25, 2016.

Juvenile—First-Degree Murder—Sentence.

In accordance with the law in 1999, defendant was sentenced to mandatory life without parole based on his conviction of first-degree murder after deliberation. Defendant was a juvenile when the crime was committed.

In February 2015, the Court of Appeals reconsidered defendant’s sentence based on Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012). The Court concluded that defendant’s sentence was unconstitutional, vacated the sentence, and remanded the case for an individualized determination of whether life without parole was an appropriate sentence. The Court’s decision was based on the conclusion that Miller applied retroactively.

In June 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court decided People v. Tate, 2015 CO 42, holding, among other things, that Miller did not apply retroactively. Acting on a petition for certiorari, in October 2015 the Colorado Supreme Court vacated the decision in this case and remanded for reconsideration in light of Tate. At that time, Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. ___ (2016), was pending in the U.S. Supreme Court. The division decided to wait for the result in Montgomery before deciding defendant’s case under Tate.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Montgomery in January 2016. The effect of Montgomery was to overrule that portion of Tate concluding that Miller should not be applied retroactively. As directed by the Colorado Supreme Court, and in light of Montgomery, the Court of Appeals reached the same result and remanded this case to the trial court, directing it to consider whether life without the possibility of parole is an appropriate sentence given defendant’s “youth and attendant characteristics.” If the trial court concludes that life without possibility of parole is unwarranted, life with the possibility of parole after 40 years is the appropriate sentence.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Miller v. Alabama Only Affected Mandatory Life Sentences for Juvenile Offenders

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Davis v. McCollum on Tuesday, August 25, 2015.

When he was 16, Johnny Davis was involved in a botched convenience store robbery that resulted in the murder of the store clerk. In 1992, under the Oklahoma sentencing scheme in effect at the time, he was sentenced to a discretionary sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Davis appealed, and the OCCA affirmed his sentence in 1995 on direct appeal. He did not appeal the OCCA’s determination and his sentence became final. In June 2013, Davis filed a pro se application for postconviction relief in state court, which claimed his age at the time of the offense precluded the sentence of life without parole. Two weeks later, with the assistance of counsel, he filed a second application, asserting the same claims. The state court denied his applications and the OCCA affirmed those denials.

In May 2014, Davis filed a pro se federal habeas petition, asserting that (1) his life without parole sentence violated the Constitution because of the new standard expressed by the Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012); (2) his counsel was ineffective at trial and on appeal; and (3) as a juvenile offender, his sentence was unconstitutional. The district court denied him a COA, finding his second and third claims were time-barred and the first issue lacked merit because Miller was inapposite. Davis appealed.

The Tenth Circuit, using AEDPA deference, agreed with the district court that the second and third claims were time-barred. Because his conviction became final before the enactment of AEDPA, his deadline to file was in April 1997. The Tenth Circuit next addressed whether Miller created a new constitutional rule for all cases in which juvenile offenders were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The Tenth Circuit noted that Miller only created a new rule for cases in which a juvenile offender was sentenced under a mandatory sentencing scheme; because the Oklahoma court had discretion to impose life with the possibility of parole, Miller was inapplicable to Davis’s case.

The district court’s denial of a COA to Davis was affirmed.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Consecutive Sentences May Constitute De Facto Life Sentence for Juvenile Offender

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Ellis on Thursday, August 13, 2015.

Juvenile—Murder—Life Sentence—Eighth Amendment—Possibility of Parole—Life Expectancy—Direct Transfer Hearing—Jury Selection—Batson Challenge.

Ellis was 17 years old when he shot and killed C.H. and wounded N.A. from the backseat of his friend’s car. Defendant was found guilty of the charges against him for these crimes. He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after forty years on the first-degree murder conviction and a thirty-two-year consecutive sentence for the attempted first-degree murder–extreme indifference conviction.

On appeal, Ellis contended that his sentence to life with the possibility of parole after a minimum of forty years’ imprisonment, together with his mandatory consecutive term of thirty-two years imprisonment, is the equivalent of life without the possibility of parole and, therefore, unconstitutional. The Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of homicide. Ellis’s sentence would constitute a de facto life sentence without the possibility of parole, and therefore would be unconstitutional, if it left Ellis without a meaningful opportunity for release. However, because Ellis’s contention depended on a factual determination of his life expectancy, which the trial court did not previously conduct, the case was remanded to the trial court to make this determination.

Ellis contended that the trial court erred when it denied his request for a direct transfer hearing. CRS § 19-2-517(1)(a)(I) permits prosecutors to charge juveniles 16 years old or older as adults, without a transfer hearing, if their charges include a class 1 or 2 felony. The reenacted statute included a provision allowing juveniles charged by direct filing to file a motion with the district court seeking transfer to juvenile court. However, the reenacted statute became effective three days after a jury convicted Ellis. Therefore, the trial court did not err when it denied Ellis’s reverse transfer motion as untimely.

Ellis also contended that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his Batson challenge to the prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges to excuse two potential jurors on account of their race. The prosecution provided a race-neutral explanation, the court found the prosecutor’s reasons believable, and the trial court’s ruling is supported by the record. Therefore, the trial court did not clearly err when it denied Ellis’s Batson challenges.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Juvenile Life Sentences Subject to Consideration of Defendants’ “Youth and Attendant Characteristics”

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in the consolidated cases of People v. TateBanks v. People, and Jensen v. People on Monday, June 1, 2015.

Juvenile Sentencing.

In this consolidation of three cases, the Supreme Court examined the appropriate remedies for defendants who were given sentences that would be unconstitutional under Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012). Miller held that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment to sentence juveniles to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) without first giving them individualized sentencing that takes into account their “youth and attendant characteristics.” Under the statutory scheme in place between 1990 and 2006, all three defendants were given mandatory LWOP sentences for crimes committed as juveniles.

Two of the cases, Tate and Banks, come on direct review. Miller therefore applies and renders their sentences unconstitutional. To preserve as much of the legislature’s work as possible, Tate and Banks should be given individualized resentencing hearings that take into account their “youth and attendant characteristics.” If the resentencing court determines LWOP is not warranted, the appropriate sentence is life with the possibility of parole (LWPP) after forty years. LWPP is appropriate in that instance because it was the sentence given both before 1990 and after 2006, and thus is what the legislature likely would have intended had they known about the subsequent constitutional rulings. The Court therefore remanded the cases for an individualized resentencing hearing to determine whether LWOP is warranted. If LWOP is not warranted, LWPP should be imposed.

The third case, Jensen, is a CAR 50 petition that came on collateral review of a final judgment. As such, the issue is whether Miller applies retroactively. Because the new rule from Miller is procedural rather than substantive and is not a “watershed” rule of procedure, it does not apply retroactively to cases on collateral review of a final judgment. It therefore does not apply to Jensen.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Juvenile Life Sentences on Collateral Review Not Subject to Constitutionality Test

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Vigil on Monday, June 1, 2015.

Juvenile Sentencing.

In this CAR 50 petition on collateral review of a final judgment, the Supreme Court held that Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), does not apply retroactively to cases on collateral review of a final judgment, and thus does not apply to Vigil. This holding was based on the Court’s decision in Jensen v. People, 2015 CO 42, __ P.3d __. The Court therefore reversed the trial court’s decision to grant Vigil’s collateral Crim.P. 35(c) motion pursuant to Miller.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Constitutionality of Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders Must Be Determined on Case-by-Case Basis

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wilder on Thursday, February 26, 2015.

Murder—Sentence—Unconstitutional—Juvenile.

In 1998, at the age of 17, defendant conspired to murder his codefendant’s husband and landlord. Defendant and his codefendant invited the two men to the house they were renting. The husband did not arrive, but the landlord arrived with a friend. After an argument, the codefendant shot both the landlord and his friend several times. The landlord’s friend died from the gunshot wounds. Defendant killed the landlord by repeatedly bludgeoning his head with a baseball bat.

On appeal, defendant asserted that his mandatory sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the first-degree murder conviction was unconstitutional. Because defendant was a juvenile at the time of the crimes, the Court of Appeals was required to make an individualized determination of whether life without parole was appropriate, given the particular qualities of the juvenile being sentenced. Here, the trial court sentenced defendant to life without the possibility of parole for the first-degree murder conviction, under the 1999 mandatory provision of CRS § 18-1.3-401(4)(a). Defendant’s sentence was vacated and his case was remanded to the trial court for an individualized determination of whether life without parole is an appropriate sentence.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Juvenile Offender’s Sentence Not Functional Equivalent of Life Without Possibility of Parole

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Lehmkuhl on Thursday, June 20, 2013.

Juvenile Prosecuted as Adult—Sentence—Cruel and Unusual Punishment—Constitutional—Eight Amendment—Parole—Mitigating Factors.

Defendant Jordan Lehmkuhl appealed the district court’s order denying his Crim.P. 35(c) motion challenging, on cruel and unusual punishment grounds, the constitutionality of sentences he received in connection with acts committed while he was a juvenile. The order was affirmed.

In October 2001, Lehmkuhl, who was then 17 years old, broke into a house where three high school girls were staying. While brandishing a gun, he bound the girls’ hands with duct tape, put a blanket over their heads, and rummaged around the house. He then took one of the girls out of the house, placed her in the trunk of a car, and, after driving the car for some distance, sexually assaulted her in the backseat of the car. Lehmkuhl was prosecuted as an adult, convicted, and sentenced to consecutive terms totaling seventy-six years to life imprisonment.

On appeal, Lehmkuhl contended that his sentence constituted unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment because it does not provide him with a meaningful opportunity of being paroled within his lifetime. The Eighth Amendment categorically prohibits sentencing a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide crime to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Here, the record indicates that Lehmkuhl will become eligible for parole in 2050, when he is 67 years old. Pursuant to CRS § 13-25-103’s mortality table, Lehmkuhl’s life expectancy is 78.2 years. Therefore, Lehmkuhl would have a meaningful opportunity for release during his natural lifetime because his life expectancy exceeds his date of parole eligibility. Accordingly, Lehmkuhl’s sentence was not a de facto life without parole sentence.

Lehmkuhl next contended that in sentencing him, the district court did not properly consider his age and other mitigating factors. The record here, however, reflects that the district court considered Lehmkuhl’s youth, as well as several other mitigating factors, including his lack of a criminal record and reputation in the community. Thus, the record shows that the court afforded Lehmkuhl the individualized sentencing determination to which he claims he was entitled.

Summary and full case available here.