Thursday, July 01, 2021

Juvenile Life Sentenced Reduced to Term of Years Procedurally and Substantively Reasonable

US v. FriendIn 1999, Friend (then 15 years old) and other family members went on a carjacking spree that left two people dead and one severely injured (then Friend, before he was charged with anything, intimidated a witness on behalf of his brothers). He eventually pleaded guilty to carjacking and carjacking causing death, receiving a mandatory life sentence on the later count (180 months on the others). After the Supreme Court held that such mandatory life sentences for juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment, Friend’s life sentence was vacated and he was resentenced to 65 years in prison on that count. That sentence was vacated on appeal due to the district court’s insufficient explanation of the sentence, and failure to engage with Friend’s numerous mitigation arguments. On remand, the district court held a second resentencing hearing and imposed a sentence of 52 years in prison.

On appeal, a divided Fourth Circuit affirmed Friend’s new sentence. First, the court held that the sentence did not violate the Eighth Amendment, as it was not mandatory and was the process of individualized discretion by the district court. The court also concluded that it was not a de facto life sentence, as it would expire while Friend was in his 60s. Second, the court held that the sentence was not procedurally unreasonable, noting that while the district court gave great weight to the nature and circumstances of the offense, it “discussed each of the defendant’s mitigating arguments” and provided the detailed explanation that was lacking the first time around. Finally, the court held that the sentence, which was below the life term recommended by the Guidelines, was substantively reasonable.

Judge Floyd dissented, arguing that the district court’s explanation was not sufficient and gave short shrift to many of the nonfrivolous mitigating arguments Friend raised.

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