Jan 28, 2020 Juvenile life without parole- Fairfax criminal defense lawyer weighs in
Juvenile life without parole may not be made mandatory
Juvenile life without parole cannot be made mandatory by statute when the crime was committed under the age of eighteen. Miller v. Alabama, 567 U. S. 460 (2012); Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). As a Fairfax criminal defense lawyer, I know that after having barred the death penalty for crimes committed when one is under eighteen, the United States Supreme Court proceeded to bar statutory mandatory life in prison without parole for that population. With SCOTUS caselaw making that ruling retroactive, Montgomery v. Louisiana, trial courts likely experienced a flood of habeas corpus / post conviction petitions by those serving statutory mandatory life sentences for crimes committed while under eighteen years old.
Gone are the days when juveniles entered guilty pleas a mandatory life sentence to avoid capital punishment
Randy Dwayne Ross was a juvenile, 16 years old, when he committed capital murder against a teenager in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-31(4), robbery of the same teen in violation of Code § 18.2-58, and two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in violation of Code § 18.2-53.1. Ross entered a guilty plea to the foregoing counts in 1999, thus receiving a mandatory life sentence without parole for capital murder. Ross v. Commonwealth. Record No. 181530 (Va. Supreme Court unpublished order, Jan. 16, 2020). Ross likely entered that guilty plea to avoid the death penalty, because the United States Supreme Court had yet to rule six years later that the capital punishment is barred for those who committed murder as juveniles. Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005).
Resentencing of a juvenile does not guarantee avoiding life without parole
In 2016, the federal trial court granted Ross’s habeas corpus petition by ordering a resentencing in the Virginia trial court for his capital murder count and robbery count. On resentencing, the Virginia circuit court sentenced Ross to “life, suspended after 91 years, for the murder conviction and to another 91 years for the robbery conviction. These two sentences were concurrent, but would run consecutively with the sentences previously received on the two firearm counts. The total sentence amounted to 99 years in the penitentiary, with credit for time served.” Ross.
Ross argued that his 91 year sentence amounted to a life sentence based on his life expectancy. Ross argued to overturn Angel v. Virginia, 281 Va. 248, cert. denied, 565 U.S. 920 (2011), which declines to view a juvenile as serving Miller– and Eight Amendment-violative life sentences where they have the opportunity to seek geriatric parole. “We have held that the geriatric release statute provides ‘the “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation” required by the Eighth Amendment.'” Ross.
Virginia underage criminal defendants should not expect a sentencing cakewalk for violent crime convictions
Consequently, Virginia juvenile criminal defendants should not expect quickly to avoid life in prison sentences for crimes that mandate life in prison for adults.
Fairfax criminal defense lawyer Jonathan L. Katz is a top-rated attorney pursuing your best defense against felony, misdemeanor, DUI, drug and sex prosecutions. Please call 703-383-1100 to schedule a confidential consultation with Jon Katz.