Aug 7, 2014

8th and 14th Amendments Violated by Capital Life Sentence Without Parole

Capital Life without Parole is Unconstitutional.

Amendment VIII:
"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

Amendment XIV (Section 1):
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

From November 1981 through January 1982 the US Supreme Court argued the case of Eddings v. Oklahoma (455 U.S. 104).
Eddings, a 16-year-old youth, was driving a car on the Oklahoma Turnpike when he momentarily lost control of the vehicle. He was signaled to pull over by an Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer; when the officer approached the car Eddings stuck a loaded shotgun out of the window and fired, killing the officer.

The State moved to have Eddings certified to stand trial as an adult, where he was charged with murder in the first degree: the District Court found him guilty upon his plea of nolo contendere. The Oklahoma death penalty statute provides in pertinent part that  "In the sentencing proceeding, evidence may be presented as to any mitigating circumstances or as to any of the aggravating circumstances enumerated in this act." However, even though the Oklahoma Statutes list seven separate aggravating circumstances; the statute nowhere defines what is meant by "any mitigating circumstances."

 At the sentencing hearing, the State alleged three of the aggravating circumstances. In mitigation, Eddings also presented substantial evidence of his troubled youth. Psychological reports stated that Eddings had a sociopathic or antisocial personality, was treatable, and could be rehabilitated by intensive therapy

At the conclusion of all the evidence, the trial judge weighed the evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances. He found that the State had proved each of the three alleged aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, but he would not consider in mitigation the circumstances of Eddings' unhappy upbringing and emotional disturbance. Finding that the only mitigating circumstance was Eddings' youth and finding further that this circumstance could not outweigh the aggravating circumstances present, the judge sentenced Eddings to death.

In this case, the Supreme Court held that the death sentence must be vacated as it was imposed without "the type of individualized consideration of mitigating factors . . . required by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments in capital cases (as per Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 606).
Further, they stated that:

 "The Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments require that the sentencer... not be precluded from considering, as a mitigating factor, any aspect of a defendant's character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death." 

Another case with similar repercussions was Miller v. Alabama, in which the Court held that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. The decision of the court was based on two consolidated cases, Jackson v. Hobbs, (10-9647) and Miller v. Alabama, (10-9646).

Both cases involved 14 year old juveniles; Kuntrell Jackson was involved in a robbery with two other teenagers, one of whom killed a store clerk. Jackson was charged as an adult and given a life term with no parole. In the second case Evan Miller was convicted of murder after he and another boy set fire to a trailer where they had bought drugs from a neighbor. He too was given a life term with no parole.
The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in both cases on March 20, 2012. In an opinion delivered by Justice Kagan on June 25, 2012, the Court 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 and that a judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penalty for juveniles.

Justice Kagan’s majority opinion stressed “...the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.

Although the Supreme Court has ruled that juveniles cannot not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the Texas Penal Code Sec. 12.31 still mandates life without parole in capital murder cases involving adult defendants where the death penalty is not sought. As in the Oklahoma statutes, the judge may be precluded from considering mitigating circumstances such as the psychological condition of the defendant while still considering all of the aggravating circumstances. Due to this inherent imbalance, aggravating circumstances in capital murder cases consistently outweigh any possible mitigation.

Houston attorney George Parnham believes that the impact of mandatory life sentencing in capital cases involving defendants with mental illness violates both the 8th and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution. In March of 2009 George Parnham, along with Texas State Rep. Jessica Farrar, introduced legislation to modify the penalty phase of trials in which a mother’s mental illness was a mitigating factor. This legal modification has been accepted by other countries, but not yet in the U.S.
Mr. Parnham’s insistence that juries and legislators consider context and mental capacity will help move focus from verdict to treatment and catalyze a societal shift from outraged condemnation to awareness and primary prevention.

No comments:

Post a Comment