Florida Judge, and Article, both Ignore Miller

“[B]ecause his chronological age was 17, the fact that he was emotionally 12 years old had no bearing on the judge’s decision at all.”

That is the closing sentence of a recent article title Judge Ignores Expert Witness Testimony in Sentencing Hearing. It is referring to a recent Florida case in which a very mentally disturbed young person killed his parents with a hammer and then threw a party in their house. The judge, after hearing the testimony of two expert witnesses, imposed the harshest sentence for a juvenile; life without the possibility of parole.

Whether the sentence is appropriate is not the point of this blog entry. What the article’s author, and possibly the sentencing judge, ignored, is that under Miller v. Alabama, “‘youth is more than a chronological fact.” Eddings, 455 U. S., at 115. It is a time of immaturity, irresponsibility, “impetuousness[,] and recklessness.” Johnson, 509 U. S., at 368. It is a moment and “condition of life when a person may be most susceptible to influence and to psychological damage.” Eddings, 455 U. S., at 115. And its “signature qualities” are all “transient.”’ If the judge failed to consider the factors the U.S. Supreme Court developed in Miller, the sentence should be overturned. The judge may choose to impose the same sentence again but, under the current law, may do so only after giving the testimony about his chronological and mental age, as well as the other factors described in Miller, the consideration they are due.