Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's imposition of a 460 month term of imprisonment based on defendant's conviction for first-degree murder under 18 U.S.C. 1111(b). While a person convicted of first-degree murder under section 1111(b) "shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for life," a defendant who was under the age of eighteen at the time of the offense, such as defendant, cannot be sentenced to death or mandatory life imprisonment under Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 479 (2012) (holding mandatory life without parole unconstitutional for juveniles), and Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 575 (2005) (holding the same for the death penalty.) In this case, the district court resolved the constitutional defect by severing section 1111(b)'s punishment provision for first-degree murder, determining that the statute-as-modified authorizes imprisonment "for any term of years or for life."The court rejected defendant's contention that the district court unconstitutionally fashioned a new punishment for first-degree murder committed by juveniles, violating the Due Process Clause's notice requirement and separation-of-powers doctrine. Rather, the court concluded that it is appropriate to sever as necessary, and that excising the mandatory minimum nature of the life sentence is all that is needed to satisfy the constitutional issue for juveniles under section 1111. In this case, the district court's remedy complies with Roper and Miller, functions independently, and is consistent with Congress's clear intent to criminalize "the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought." The court also rejected defendant's assertion that the district court violated the Due Process Clause and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 by failing to specify his potential sentencing range at his plea hearing. The court explained that defendant's plea hearing demonstrates that the district court properly notified him of the consequences of a guilty plea, and therefore defendant's plea was knowing and voluntary. View "United States v. Bonilla-Romero" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his below-Guidelines 35 year sentence for his role in a carjacking with fellow gang members when he was 16 years old. The carjacking resulted in two murders.The Fifth Circuit held that defendant's sentence did not violate Miller v. Alabama, which prohibits sentencing a juvenile to mandatory life without parole, because defendant received a discretionary sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) rather than a mandatory sentence; he was sentenced to 35 years in prison rather than life without parole; and he failed to demonstrate a violation of Miller's substantive requirements. Furthermore, defendant was afforded far more than the minimum procedure necessary to conduct a proper section 3553(a) analysis, and Miller did not add procedural requirements over and above section 3553(a). The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by applying two points to defendant's offense level for obstructing justice under USSG 3C1.1, and denying him a two point reduction for accepting responsibility under USSG 3E1.1. View "United States v. Sparks" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court held that aggravated assault under Texas law does not categorically require the use or carrying of a knife, firearm, or destructive device, and cannot qualify as a predicate offense under Armed Career Criminal Act for juvenile adjudications. However, the district court did not err in calculating defendant's base offense level as 24 under USSG 2K2.1. The court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Flores" on Justia Law

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The phrase "officials or employees of any governmental agency with responsibility for the administration of juvenile justice," as it is used in 34 U.S.C. 12601(a), does not include the judges of a county youth court. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in an action under section 12601, alleging that Lauderdale County and its two Youth Court judges operated a "school-to-prison pipeline" and, through their administration of the juvenile justice process, were engaged in patterns or practices that denied juveniles their constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The court held that the district court did not err in dismissing the lawsuit against the judges on the basis that they are outside the scope of Section 12601, and because the government has affirmatively waived any other argument for continuing the lawsuit against the County. View "United States v. Lauderdale County" on Justia Law

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The district court held that when a minor's parents bring a lawsuit on his behalf as next friends, the statute of limitations for those claims is not tolled during his period of minority if they were aggressively litigated through the prior lawsuit. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court improperly created this exception to Texas's tolling provision to its statute of limitations, and thus reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's claims related to serious and sustained injuries he suffered while he was detained at a juvenile detention center. The court held that the district court erred by fashioning a rule of its own making to find that plaintiff forfeited the protection of Texas's tolling provision when his parents had brought suit as next friends. The court remanded for further proceedings, including consideration of res judicata and other issues presented. View "Clyce v. Butler" on Justia Law