State v. Riley
Connecticut's current sentencing procedures afford juvenile defendants sufficient opportunity, and courts ample discretion, for meaningful mitigation of juvenile sentences and its individualized sentencing process comports with the eighth amendment to the federal constitution's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. For a drive by shooting in which one teenager died and two others were seriously injured, 17-year-old Ackeem Riley was convicted, following a jury trial, of murder, conspiracy and counts of attempt to commit murder and assault in the first degree. Riley was sentenced to 100 years imprisonment. He appealed claiming that under the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court's reasoning in Miller v. Alabama, he was entitled to a resentencing procedure in which the court is required to consider his youth and any attendant deficiencies and to articulate on the record that it has done so. The defendant further claimed that if the court were again to impose a life without parole sentence, it must explain why the sentence was appropriate despite his age. The majority of the Appellate Court panel affirmed the judgment, disagreeing with the defendant's interpretation of Miller. The Miller court held that policymakers can no longer prescribe mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles, even for the most serious homicide offenses. Juvenile defendants, in cases where life without parole is a possible penalty, must have the opportunity to present mitigating evidence. But, the majority concluded, Miller did not to define a process that sentencing courts must follow. Here, the trial court exercised discretion in fashioning the defendant's sentence and was free to consider any mitigating evidence the defendant marshaled, including evidence concerning his age and maturity. The trial court clearly was cognizant of these issues and searched the presentence investigation report for mitigating circumstances. Riley's youth was not irrelevant, either statutorily or in practice, to the consideration of his sentence. The majority concluded that the federal constitution requires that the young defendant be sentenced as an individual, where the court can and should weigh his maturity, development and likelihood for rehabilitation against the harm caused to his victims and society and that Riley received what the constitution guarantees. Judge Borden disagreed and dissented, finding the sentence imposed cruel and unusual and lacking the opportunity for a future hearing on sentence modification consistent with the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case of Graham v. Florida.