Thursday, May 17, 2018

US v. Briones, Jr., No. 16-10150 (5-16-18)(Rawlinson w/Ezra; dissent by O'Scannlain)(Note: Az FPD represents a juvenile co-defendant on a similar Miller claim).

The 9th affirms a life sentence for a felony murder committed by the defendant when he was days shy of his 18th birthday.  The murder was of a Subway clerk; it was calculated and cold blooded; and it was part of gang activity.  Yet, since the defendant was sentenced to life in 1997 (after turning down a plea), the defendant has changed.  He has matured, received no write ups (!), and is different now then when he was a juvenile.  Miller v. Alabama, 567 US 460 (2012), gave him a second chance.

At resentencing, the district court still imposed life.  The court calculated the guidelines (life), and noted the evidence presented, including the dysfunctional childhood, difficulties on the Reservation, gang culture, his child and wife, the fact he was not the triggerman, and, although disputed, his remorse and regret. The majority found this weighing was sufficient for consideration of the "hallmark features" of youth before sentencing.  The 9th found a sufficient basis for supporting the life sentence.  In affirming, the 9th deferred heavily to the district court.

Dissenting, O'Scannlain argues that the district court erred because it failed to satisfactorily explain the basis for its sentence so as to provide review.  The defendant argued that, under Miller, the court had to specifically consider whether the defendant, then juvenile, fell into a class of permanently incorrigible juvenile offenders. Life sentences are appropriate for juvenile offenders only in the most uncommon or extraordinary of cases.  A judge, to impose a life sentence on a juvenile, must explain why the defendant fell into this group. The court needs to compare and contrast how the offender was then and now, the magnitude of the offense, and other 3553 factors.  There are no magic words or phrases, or special new hurdles; what is required is that the court provide an adequate explanation of its sentence.  This was lacking here. The court did not address the arguments the defendant made. The dissent would remand for resentencing.
The decision is here:


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