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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Previewing the Coming Term (Part Nine): Graham v. Florida

StockburgerPeter [This is the ninth in a series of posts by CrimProf’s graduate fellow, Peter Stockburger (University of San Diego Class of 2009), previewing the criminal law and procedure cases scheduled for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court this coming term. Peter excerpts and paraphrases the briefs of the parties to provide an overview of the cases and the advocates’ arguments. Links to the briefs of the parties appear at the end of the summary.]

Docket No.: 08-7412
Case: Graham v. Florida
Oral Argument: November 9, 2009

Issue:  Whether the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits the imprisonment of a juvenile for life without the possibility of parole as punishment for the juvenile’s commission of a non-homicide crime.
[Another case raising similar issues and to be argued on the same day, Sullivan v. Florida, was previewed yesterday.]

Factual and Procedural History:  At age sixteen, petitioner was charged with (1) armed burglary with assault or battery, and (2) attempted armed robbery.  Petitioner pled guilty to the offenses in return for three years' probation and a twelve-month sentence in a pre-trial detention facility.

In 2004, after petitioner was released from jail, an affidavit of violation of probation was filed alleging petitioner committed an armed home invasion robbery.  At his probation revocation hearing, the State presented evidence establishing that petitioner committed the armed home invasion robbery, as well as similar robberies in an adjacent neighborhood.  Following this hearing, the trial court found petitioner guilty of the alleged violations and sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  Petitioner was nineteen years old at the time of his sentencing. 

Petitioner appealed in the Florida District Court of Appeal, asserting both facial and as applied constitutional violations arising from his sentence.  The District Court of Appeal rejected both claims, affirming the lower court, finding there is no “per se ban on the sentencing of juveniles to life imprisonment,” and that petitioner’s sentence was not grossly disproportionate to his crime.  The Supreme Court of Florida denied discretionary review.  The U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari on May 4, 2009.  Oral argument is scheduled for November 9, 2009.

Summary of Petitioner’s Argument:  Petitioner argues that, pursuant to Roper v. Simmons (2005), petitioner’s sentence is “grossly disproportionate when viewed through the prism of his status as a juvenile offender.”  According to petitioner, juveniles possess less maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility.  Thus, they are more vulnerable and susceptible to negative and outside influences.  Consequently, according to petitioner, imprisoning juvenile offenders for life without parole for non-homicide offenses is unjustifiable.

According to petitioner, Roper supports his claim.  The rationales of rehabilitation and deterrence are not applicable to juveniles, and petitioner’s sentence is significantly greater than the average sentences for all offenders convicted in Florida of violent crimes or armed burglaries.  Consequently, petitioner requests the lower court’s decision be reversed and remanded.

Summary of Respondent’s Argument:  Respondent has not yet filed a merits brief.

Brief for Petitioner Terrance Jamar Graham

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