Monday, July 16, 2012

Stickin' It to the Supremes - and to the Kids

The Supreme Court speaks.  Government officials must obey.  Because ours is a nation of laws. 
So they say.
Alternatively, they can, model themselves after Andy Jackson.  You know the story.
When the Supreme Court refused Georgia's attempt to seize Cherokee lands (Wooster v. Georgia), a defiant President Andy Jackson is said (although it's probably apocryphal) to have responded, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it." Regardless of whether he said it, Jackson sent in troops to remove the Cherokee demonstrating that he meant it.

This is not a post about the Affordable Care Act, not about the decision in NFIB v. Sibelius or how governor after governor has announced that his state won't comply.  In fact, none of those governors is refusing to honor what SCOTUS said.  They've got a legal right - not without consequence, but a legal right - to refuse to implement some of the provisions.  For good or ill, they're taking advantage of that right to undercut the law.  Which, as I say, they have a perfect right to do.
Anyway, I'm not writing about that.
Instead, I'm writing about Terry Branstad, the Eighth Amendment, and LWOP. And the Supreme Court's ruling in Miller v. Alabama.
But I have to begin with Raymond Taylor, Jr.  He is, if you believe (as did the jury) the testimony at his trial, a monster.  The jury found him guilty of some 81 counts of rape and other offenses committed on his step-daughter from the time she was 9 until she was 15.  (The jury was never asked to return verdicts on counts 82-140; I don't know why.)
Horrible crimes get horrible sentences.  The judge gave Taylor 8 consecutive life sentences to be followed by (or perhaps preceded by, it's less than clear, though the prison system seems to think preceded by) 642 years and 6 months in prison.
Fortunately, Taylor has hope. On April 29, 2735, he'll have finished with the term of years. After that, he'll only have to serve out the remainder of his life 8 times before he's released.
The sentence is, of course, a joke.  Oh, it's real enough in the technical sense that it was imposed by a judge and he's begun serving it, but it's a joke in the same way that Bernie Madoff's 150 year sentence is a joke.  It's not real because it cannot be served. It's LWOP with a pretense otherwise.
Which brings me to this guy.
Governor Terry Branstad
He's Terry Branstad, Governor of the Hawkeye State (that's Iowa). And he's righteously pissed at the Supreme Court which put the people of his state at risk by declaring in Miller that mandatory sentences of LWOP for people who killed as juveniles are unconstitutional. There are, it seems, 38 of them doing LWOP in Iowa prisons.  And now they must all be released.
Or not.
In fact, the Supremes didn't say that anyone needs to be released.  It said, rather, that before a juvenile can be sentenced to LWOP there must be an individual determination that it's an appropriate sentence for this kid in this case.  LWOP for kids remains available as long as it isn't mandatory.
While courts and lawyers across Iowa were trying to figure out how to apply Miller to those 38 prisoners, Branstad found a solution.
He commuted all the sentences.
No more LWOP, so no need for individual determinations of whether LWOP was appropriate in this or that case.
Of course, Branstad didn't let anyone out.  He knew how bad an idea that was since every one of those kids should serve LWOP.
And so they will, almost certainly.
Even though none of them will have an LWOP sentence.
They're all eligible for parole. Of course, eligibility for parole and actual parole aren't the same thing.  Eligibility says nothing about actually getting out.  Still, it means they've got a chance.
Just as soon as they've served 60 full years in prison.  Which, given the demographics of prison, likely means that most of them will first become eligible for parole right around the time they die. In prison.
Really, Branstad could have made it simpler.  He could have converted the LWOP sentences to sentences of 150 years each. Which would achieve the same thing.
Sticking it to the Supreme Court.
But without the sham.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I heard about this on a conference call yesterday. So offensive on so many levels. Invites more litigation.