Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Capitol Sniper avoids execution as HIgh Court voids juvenile death sentence.

On March 1, 2005, the Supreme Court reversed 15 years of precedent and ruled, 5-4, that executing people for crimes they committed under the age of 18 is unconstitutional as against the "cruel and ununusal punishment" clause of the Eight Amendment.

This case appears to have far ranging impacts, but currently impacts between 78 and 84 prisoners on death rows nationwide. Probably the most prominent example of a juvenile who will not be exeucted as a result of this ruling is the case of John Lee Malvo, one of the infamous Capitol snipers. Because Malvo was 17 at the time of the killings, Virginia prosecutors have announced that they will not seek the death penalty as a result of yesterdays rulings.

6 Comments:

At March 2, 2005 at 7:57 AM, Blogger chipesq said...

In an opinion available for download below, US v. Siegelbaum, CR No. 02-179-01-PA (D. Or. Jan. 24, 2005), Senior US District Judge Owen Panner, previously famed for having found the federal guidelines structurally invalid due to the Feeney Amendment (details here), works thoughtfully through Booker's potential retroactivity. According to the summary of the decision I received from a reader, Judge Panner concluded that:

1. The district court may hear a first-time § 2255 motion now, without waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether Blakely/Booker are retroactive. [Whether a successive § 2255 motion may be heard now is a different question, governed by different statutory language].

2. The remedy announced in Blakely/Booker (advisory guidelines) must not be confused with the constitutional violation (in specified circumstances, sentence may be enhanced only if essential facts are admitted by defendant or found by jury applying reasonable doubt standard). The latter is the "rule" for retroactivity purposes.

3. The rule announced in Blakely/Booker is a new procedural rule.

4. Existing precedent does not definitively answer whether this new rule should be applied retroactively. No inference can be drawn from the failure to discuss this issue in Booker, as the cases before the Court involved direct appeals. Shriro held that a misallocation of factfinding responsibility (judge versus jury) does not warrant retroactive application, but did not decide whether application of a preponderance standard, instead of a reasonable doubt standard, is an error that requires retroactive relief. Three pre-Teague cases suggest it may be, because the lesser standard of proof can significantly affect factfinding accuracy and society's confidence in the result.

5. Even if Blakely/Booker were entitled to retroactive application, Siegelbaum is not entitled to relief. The principles animating the retroactivity analysis would require that relief be limited to persons presently serving a sentence that was enhanced on the basis of contested facts not found beyond a reasonable doubt or admitted as part of the plea bargain. Only if a defendant actually disputed the facts that resulted in the sentence enhancement, and the court decided the matter against him, can the defendant show that he may have been prejudiced by application of the wrong standard of proof. Even then, a defendant would not necessarily be entitled to a reduced sentence. Arguably, he is entitled only to have the sentencing facts adjudicated under the proper standard of proof. Such questions must await another day, as Siegelbaum's petition can be resolved on other grounds.

6. Siegelbaum's guidelines range was enhanced 15 levels above the base offense level of conviction. However, he never contested the sentence enhancements, or the facts on which those enhancements were premised. He even stipulated to the sentence that was imposed. In return, the government agreed to dismiss twelve other counts against him, and to forego bringing additional charges. Siegelbaum has suffered no injustice. He received the sentence for which he bargained. Siegelbaum is not entitled to relief.

Download siegelbaum_opinion_denying_2255_motion.pdf

 
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