A state appellate court in Illinois recently reversed a 78 year sentence imposed on a 17 year-old, holding that the prohibition against mandatory juvenile life without parole for homicide crimes also applies to cumulative sentences imposed for multiple crimes that effectively amount to a sentence of “natural life without parole.” In that case, People v. Nieto, the teenager was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the the charge of first degree murder, 25 years for the personal discharge of a firearm, and 18 years for aggravated battery with a firearm, all to be served consecutively for a total of 78 years.
Here is what that court said about consecutive sentences for multiple crimes in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, the case the held that mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences violate the 8th Amendment:
On the issue of de facto life sentences where the juvenile has no meaningful opportunity for release, in addition to Nieto, at least two other courts decided that question this year. First, the Nevada Supreme Court held that a 100 year sentence for a non-homicide crime violates Graham. Second, Judge Richard Posner, writing for a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, found that a 100 year sentence imposed on a 16 year-old for a homicide offense violates Miller, at least where the judge did not consider the age of the defendant or all of the circumstances surrounding the crime.
The second issue that Nieto addressed is whether, after the Montgomery decision, Miller must be interpreted to require a finding of “irreparable corruption” as a prerequisite to a juvenile life without parole sentence:
The decision in Nieto is the third case this month where a court found that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Montgomery put a substantive gloss on Miller. This means that Miller should be read to prohibit a life without parole sentence for a juvenile homicide offender unless he or she is among the rare (and, perhaps mythical or at least unknowable) handful of teenagers who meet the irreparable corruption threshold. In addition to Nieto, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned a life without parole sentence given to Robert Veal, who was 17 at the time at the time of his crime (see our blog post here for more information on that case). Similar to Nieto, the Georgia Supreme Court reasoned:
The Arizona Court of Appeals, Division Two, reached the same conclusion last week in State v. Valencia:
“But there is no question that the rule in Miller as broadened in Montgomery renders a natural-life sentence constitutionally impermissible, notwithstanding the sentencing court’s discretion to impose a lesser term, unless the court “take[s] into account ‘how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.’” Montgomery, ___ U.S. at ___, 136 S. Ct. at 733, quoting Miller, ___ U.S. at ___, 132 S. Ct. at 2469. Moreover, after taking these factors into account, the court can impose a natural-life sentence only if it concludes that the juvenile defendant’s crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility. See id. at ___, 136 S. Ct. at 734.”
When taken together, these cases represent a trend away from the use of juvenile life without parole, and indicate a shift towards treating juveniles differently from adults.