Forecast 2014: Defense Lawyers Focus On Sentencing Issues

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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John Walkley
John Walkley

These are complicated times in criminal law. The death penalty as a ultimate punishment has been repealed in Connecticut, but new ways to commit crimes continue to created.

Mandatory minimum sentences continue to be established, but the U.S. Attorney General suggests—at least on paper—that his prosecutors seek those sentences less often. And while the public seems to clamor for longer and longer sentences for convicted wrongdoers, those looking at balancing a tight state budget are trying to reduce prison population and costs of incarceration.

As they say, for every complex problem there is a simple solution, and it's usually wrong. 2014 is likely to shape up as a year that continues this examination of conflicting interests.

Following are a few topics in criminal law I believe will make news in the new year:

Juvenile Sentencing

In the summer of 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama and held that defendants who were juveniles at the time of their capital offenses could not be sentenced (except in rare circumstances) to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Based on Miller, a handful of cases have returned or will be returning to the Connecticut dockets for reexamination and resentencing in the near future. Capital defense attorneys will be in full mitigation mode until the time is right to ask the courts to revisit these defendants' sentences.

It is unlikely that this re-examination will end with cases involving life imprisonment without any chance of release. Litigation will also commence in cases in which extremely long sentences were handed out for offenses that occurred while the defendants were juveniles. The second set of litigation is based on another U.S. Supreme Court decision, the 2010 case of Graham v. Florida, in which the justices focused on science demonstrating that the brain is not fully formed until a person reaches 21 to 25 years of age.

At least one Connecticut court has indicated it will not entertain motions based on the young offender's developmental stage. But especially in light of Miller and the changing complexion of juvenile sentencing, these motions are inevitable. One can also expect that the nature of sentencing at the trial level in juvenile court has changed forever.

Forensic Science

Just as the science surrounding juvenile brain development has caused courts to adjust their views on punishment, criminal defense lawyers are asking the courts to reexamine the validity of previously accepted areas of forensic "science."

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