The United States Supreme Court will hear a case that tackles how the Three Strikes Law is applied to minors and will address the harsh mandatory minimum sentencing requirements and enhancements for children being tried as adults.
Defense attorneys will argue before the Supreme Court that extreme punishments like the death penalty and life without parole (LWOP) sentences, when applied to minors, are a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, says Bloomberg Law.
At issue is the test used to determine whether previously committed offenses satisfy the statute’s “different occasions” standard. In Wooden v. United States, Wooden’s argument was that the Sixth Circuit’s opinion that multiple convictions arising from a single criminal act satisfy the standard is overly expansive in scope and violates the plain meaning of the statute.
In the Wooden case, prosecutors piled up multiple charges of burglary against him when he broke into a building that housed multiple storage units. Each unit he burglarized, prosecutors claimed, counted as a separate crime under the statute. Per the statute, there is no attenuation in time needed between one crime and the next in order to be labeled a “career criminal.” Judge Neil Gorsuch said, according to Bloomberg Law, “that the rule of lenity might be implicated as there was ambiguity as to what exactly Congress meant by crimes being committed on occasions different from one another.” The assumptions presented by the judges illustrated the complexity for the court in developing a workable test that would result in consistent results.
The statute was meant to address truly habitual offenders. The labeling of children as “career criminals” during a single criminal act is nonsensical, said Bloomberg Law. The government’s position and the lower courts incorrect interpretation of the ACCA’S (Armed Career Criminal Act, also known as the Three Strikes Law) “different occasions” standard not only contradicts legislative intent but further affronts the constitutional requirement of proportionality in sentencing under the Eighth Amendment when applied to minors.
Children’s underdeveloped brains often result in making poor decisions. Trauma and negative factors impact brain development and are a primary reason why so many children are system involved. The Supreme Court has consistently recognized that conditions leading to juvenile crime are transient, not permanent. Thus, labeling a child an irredeemable “career criminal” is inconsistent with a fair and qualitative assessment.
The State argued that the “different occasions” element was satisfied so long as it showed an attenuation of time—no matter how slight—between elements of each offense. In the Houston-Sconiers case from the State of Washington, two teenage boys had robbed other kids of their candy on Halloween night. Even though no one was hurt, prosecutors charged the boys with seven counts of burglary and nine firearm enhancements, among other crimes.
The State treated each robbery as a separate occasion under the ACCA, triggering mandatory minimums under the statute.
Equating an individual’s poor judgment on a single occasion with perpetual and irredeemable criminality is not justified when applied to adults, and unconscionable when applied to children. Congress would do well to remove minors from the harsh jolt of mandatory minimums all together, said the article.