Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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Six years after defendant received a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for crimes he committed when he was 17 years old, he moved to vacate his sentence in light of the Supreme Court’s intervening decisions in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016). The district court resentenced defendant to life imprisonment without parole after concluding that he presents "one of those uncommon cases where sentencing a juvenile to the hardest possible penalty is appropriate."The Fourth Circuit affirmed and held that, even assuming the district court plainly erred in not vacating defendant's witness tampering by murder conviction, he has not shown that the error affected his substantial rights. The court also held that defendant's sentence of life imprisonment without parole is procedurally reasonable where the district court conducted a thorough resentencing and did not abuse its discretion in its consideration of defendant's age at the time of the offense or his postconviction diagnosis and conduct. Furthermore, the district court amply explained why it concluded that "the harshest possible penalty"—life imprisonment without parole—was appropriate. Finally, the court held that defendant's sentence was not substantively unreasonable where the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that defendant's crimes, committed when he was 7-and-a-half months shy of his 18th birthday, reflected irreparable corruption rather than "the transient immaturity of youth." View "United States v. McCain" on Justia Law

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On rehearing en banc, the Fourth Circuit reversed the judgment and remanded with instructions to grant plaintiff's motion to set aside the agency's final action denying plaintiff special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) status. In this case, USCIS interpreted 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(27)(J) (i) to require a permanent custody order and thus denied plaintiff's SIJ application, dismissing his administrative appeal.The court held that the agency's rejection of plaintiff's SIJ provision -- that clause (i) requires a permanent custody order -- is entitled to no deference, defies the plain statutory language, and impermissibly intrudes into issues of state domestic relations law. Because the agency's interpretation of clause (i) was not in accordance with law, the court remanded to the agency to take another look at plaintiff's SIJ application. View "Perez v. Cuccinelli" on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed suit challenging the Director's repeated denial of parole to petitioner. The district court granted the Director's motion to dismiss, holding that juvenile-specific Eighth Amendment protections do not apply to petitioner because he was sentenced to life with parole, and that the Parole Board procedures satisfied procedural due process requirements under the Fourteenth Amendment.Reading petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition as a 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint, the Fourth Circuit declined to extend the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence to juvenile parole proceedings and find that it is cruel and unusual punishment for a parole board to deny juvenile offenders parole without specifically considering age-related mitigating characteristics as a separate factor in the decisionmaking process. In regard to the Fourteenth Amendment claim, the court held that, although there was no constitutional or inherent right to parole proceedings, Virginia law gives rise to an expectation of parole proceedings that has created a liberty interest in parole consideration. The court held that, nevertheless, to satisfy the due process requirements triggered by this liberty interest, a parole board need only provide an offender an opportunity to be heard and a statement of reasons indicating why parole has been denied. In this case, petitioner's parole proceedings satisfied those requirements. View "Bowling v. Director, Virginia Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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During seven weeks in 2002, Malvo (then 17 years old) and Muhammad, the “D.C. Snipers,” murdered 12 individuals, inflicted grievous injuries on six others, and terrorized the area with a shooting spree. The two were apprehended while sleeping in a car. A loaded rifle was found in the car; a hole had been “cut into the lid of the trunk, just above the license plate, through which a rifle barrel could be projected.” At the time, a Virginia defendant convicted of capital murder, who was at least 16 years old at the time of his crime, would be punished by either death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. A jury convicted Malvo of two counts of capital murder but declined to recommend the death penalty. He was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment without parole. Malvo later pleaded guilty in another Virginia jurisdiction to capital murder and attempted capital murder and received two additional terms of life imprisonment without parole. The Supreme Court subsequently held that defendants who committed crimes when under the age of 18 cannot be sentenced to death; cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole unless they committed a homicide that reflected their permanent incorrigibility; and that these rules were to be applied retroactively. The Fourth Circuit concluded that Malvo’s sentences must be vacated because the retroactive constitutional rules for sentencing juveniles were not satisfied. The court remanded for resentencing to determine whether Malvo qualifies as a rare juvenile offender who may, consistent with the Eighth Amendment, be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole because his “crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility” or whether those crimes instead “reflect the transient immaturity of youth,” so that he must receive a lesser sentence. View "Malvo v. Mathena" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of habeas relief and remanded with instructions to dismiss petitioner's habeas application with prejudice under the court's decision in United States v. Surratt, 855 F.3d 218 (4th Cir. 2017) (en banc). Petitioner was sentenced to 118 years in prison for nonhomicide crimes that he committed when he was 15 years old. Petitioner sought habeas relief after the Supreme Court decided Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), which prohibited juvenile offenders convicted of nonhomicide crimes from being sentenced to life without parole. While the application was pending, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell issued petitioner a partial pardon, reducing his sentence to 40 years' imprisonment. The court reasoned that had the district court properly applied Surratt, it would have been required to conclude that Governor McDonnell's valid partial pardon reducing petitioner's sentence to 40 years' imprisonment rendered his habeas application moot and that the district court was therefore without jurisdiction to address it and opine on the constitutionality of petitioner's original sentence under Graham. View "Blount v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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The Juvenile Delinquency Act (JDA), 18 U.S.C. 5031, is intended to ensure that at the time they are brought into the criminal justice process, juveniles will have the benefit of a system that is tailored to their special needs and vulnerabilities and, in particular, to their special receptivity to rehabilitation. In light of this statutory purpose, it is entirely rational to define as juveniles protected by the JDA only those who are younger than 21 when they are indicted. In this case, although defendant was 17 years old when he and another individual robbed a brothel, raping one victim and killing another, he was over 21 years old when he was indicted for the crimes. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that defendant's timing-related arguments were without merit, and that the government established the connection to interstate commerce necessary to sustain a Hobbs Act conviction. The court also found no error in the evidentiary rulings challenged on appeal nor error with defendant's sentence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Lopez" on Justia Law