Friday, November 15, 2013

Sentencing enhancements not punishment for priors

US v. Hunter:   As a juvenile, Appellant Jimmy Hunter received four convictions, all of which are considered violent felonies for ACCA purposes. He also received a fifth felony conviction as an adult, which may or may not be a predicate ACCA offense. In February 2011, Mr. Hunter sold a gun and ammunition to a CI working for the ATF; he received a felon in possession charge to which he pleaded guilty. At the time of his sentencing, the district court determined that Mr. Hunter’s juvenile and adult priors formed the basis for an ACCA enhancement, and sentenced Mr. Hunter to seventeen years’ imprisonment.

On appeal, Mr. Hunter challenged the application of his juvenile offenses as bases for an ACCA enhancement, arguing that this application violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excessive sanctions pursuant to Miller v. Alabama. In that case, the Supreme Court outlawed life without parole for juvenile offenders, highlighting proportionality concerns for young offenders, i.e., juveniles’ diminished capacity and increased capacity for reform.

The Fourth Circuit did not find any assistance for Mr. Hunter under Miller as he challenged the sentence he received for criminal conduct he committed as an adult, unlike the defendants in Miller who were punished as adolescents for criminal activity they committed as juveniles. Two other Circuits, the Tenth and Eleventh, which considered similar challenges to sentences from adult defendants who received enhancements based on juvenile convictions, determined that nothing in Miller suggests that an adult defendant with juvenile priors should not receive a mandatory life sentence as an adult after committing crime as an adult.

The Fourth Circuit held here that "sentencing enhancements do not themselves constitute punishment for the prior criminal convictions that trigger them," echoing the Supreme Court’s 2008 holding in United States v. Rodriguez, where the Court determined that the defendant’s enhanced sentence was "a stiffened penalty for the latest crime, which is considered to be an aggravated offense because [it is] a repetitive one."  Mr. Hunter's sentence was affirmed. 

No comments: