Teen’s 254-Year Sentence Deemed Unconstitutional

     (CN) – The 254-year prison sentence imposed on a teenager in 1992 is unconstitutional, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday, because it amounts to life without parole.
     The 9th Circuit said Roosevelt Brian Moore’s sentence is “materially indistinguishable” from a life sentence without parole, which the Supreme Court rejected in 2010 for juveniles who haven’t committed murder.
     In Graham v. Florida, the justices said the U.S. Constitution establishes a “flat ban on life without parole” for juvenile nonhomicide offenders.
     To do so, the justices ruled, would violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Juvenile defendants like Moore must be given “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,” the high court ruled.
     The federal appeals court in Pasadena, Calif., said the Supreme Court’s holding in Graham applies retroactively to Moore’s sentence, which became final in 1993.
     Moore was 16 years old when he sexually victimized four women in 1991. He was found guilty of 24 counts, including nine counts of forcible rape, seven counts of forcible oral copulation and two counts of second-degree robbery.
     One staff psychologist convinced the trial judge that Moore lacked the capacity to change, though the rest of the clinical staff concluded that Moore “displays a sense of motivation to change in overcoming his delinquent lifestyle.”
     Moore was sentenced to 254 years and four months in prison, and isn’t eligible for parole until he serves half that time.
     “Thus, Moore will spend his life in prison because he would have to live to 144 years old to be eligible for parole,” Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the three-judge panel.
     After the Supreme Court decided Graham, Moore appealed his sentence to all three levels of the state court system.
     The Los Angeles Superior Court and the state Supreme Court summarily dismissed his appeal, and the California Court of Appeal held that Graham does not apply to Moore’s sentence.
     He fared no better in Federal Court, where the judge also ruled that Graham did not apply retroactively to his sentence.
     The 9th Circuit reversed, however, saying Graham not only applies retroactively, but also bars exactly the kind of sentence imposed on Moore.
     “Moore’s sentence guarantees that he will die in prison because the trial judge determined at the outset that Moore could not rehabilitate,” Pregerson wrote. “Moore has now spent over half of his life in prison. Still, he has no hope of reentering society. His past and future efforts to reform are immaterial. Moore’s sentence is irreconcilable with Graham‘s mandate that a juvenile nonhomicide offender must be provided “some meaningful opportunity” to reenter society. Thus, Moore’s sentence is unconstitutional under Graham.”

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