The case of Miller vs. Alabama regained momentum after the Supreme Court of the United States of America made a ruling on 25th June 2012 on the imposition of mandatory life without the guarantee of parole on juveniles. The highest court in the land ruled that the imposition went against the provisions of the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. According to the provisions of the Amendment in the discussion, individuals are assured of the right of not being subjected to excessive sanctions. It goes further to make a requirement for the punishment to be proportionate to the illegality committed. The details emerged in the cases of Graham vs. Florida and Roper vs. Simmons. The case noted the difference between the Juveniles and the adults and the need for them to be guaranteed different treatment. The Juveniles were also understood to be hyper and prone to impulsive behaviors with minimal understanding of the full effect of their actions (Ahranjani, Andrew and Jamin, 7). The present cases then, were of Jackson Kuntrell and Evan Miller and were to be influenced by the ruling made by the Supreme Court.
Miller at the time of conviction by the Alabama state court to life in prison without the possibility of parole was 14 years old hence the violation of the 8th and the 14th amendments. The state of Alabama in defense argued the case of Roper and Graham from where the Supreme Court made the ruling as factually different from the case of Miller. It went further to state that the national standards of decency agreed on a minor being sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in certain extreme situations (Beauchaine, Theodore, and Stephen, 4). The basic interpretation of the defense gave a room for deliberation whether the case of Miller qualified to be considered extreme.
Facts about the case
Evan Miller alongside Colby Smith is noted to have killed Cole Cannon in July 2003. The duo beat cannon with the use of a baseball bat. They went further to set fire on the victim's trailer while Cannon was inside as a way of concealing evidence. The firefighters responded to the fire and concluded that the fire was rather suspicious and called for further investigation. Miller and his associate also took the victim's driving license and $ 300 from the wallet. In an interview with Tim Sandlin, Evan Miller signed a statement affirming the night's occurrences except being involved in the part of the fire. The investigation results performed on the victim's trailer (Cannon) and an additional autopsy confirmed the death of Cannon had been caused majorly by smoke inhalation (Bornstein, Marc, and Tama, 16). There was also evidence that he suffered ethanol intoxication and numerous blunt force injuries that were inflicted by Evan Miller. The results of the investigation saw Miller being transferred to Lawrence County Juvenile and Circuit courts to receive trial as an adult for committing a capital offense while assaulting Cannon. He was, therefore, sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
It was at this point that a post-trial motion was filed with the argument that the sentencing was unusual, cruel and in violation of the 8th Amendment. The subsequent events saw the trial court denying the motion; the Alabama Appeal court also affirmed the decision of the lower court. Miller made attempts also to persuade the Supreme Court about the case, but his petition was denied on the grounds of the writ of certiorari. A companion case which also shared a similar course was that of Kuntrell Jackson together with Derrick Shields and Travis Booker. The three robbed a local movie store based in Blytheville, Arkansas. The time of the event was around November 1999, and the three were 14 years of age. The subsequent events saw Shield shooting a store clerk during a robbery and Jackson receiving trials and similar conviction to that of Miller. His attempts to petition and appeal the ruling were both dismissed (Heide, 9).
The Supreme Court was charged with the final mandate of making a decision pertaining the sentencing of a 14-year-old to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole being in violation of both the 8th and the 14th Amendments. As noted previously, the amendments prohibited cruel and unusual punishments. Some of the basic areas used by Evan Miller to argue in court were on the mitigating factors. The factors included his age, the violation of the provisions of the 8th and the 14th Amendments and the final sentencing which in its nature was cruel and unusual. The state of Alabama in defense argued that a punishment given to a 14-year-old to life in prison without parole do not in any way interfere or violates the provisions of the 8th and the 14th Amendments. It, instead, give service to the penological objectives in the event a crime committed takes the form of aggravated murder (Siegel, Larry, and Brandon, 13). The argument of Miller also received support from the American Psychological Association (APA) that the youths must be protected to life sentences without parole considering their underdevelopment hence less culpable than adults. The underdevelopment was viewed in the neurological aspect. On the other hand, Alabama contended that there exists no difference in the neurological development between a 14 and 15, 16 and 17-year-old youths who are subject to life parole sentences. Further to that, the state of Alabama noted that it is only in death sentences where the minors are exempted.
Former Juvenile court judges affirmed the clarity of the provisions of 8th and 14th Amendments and called on the state of Alabama to consider the established rules in looking at the case of Miller. The judges also argued that while it may be possible for the juveniles to benefits from personal and educational development opportunities, their sentencing should be based on a term of years (Tanenhaus, David, and Franklin, 5). The term of years will give the society the chance to contribute to reassessing the rehabilitation of the juveniles. The inclusion of the former judges' opinion made the state of Alabama to clarify that their decision to sentence Miller was based on the established rules with the major argument being on the penological aim (Stevenson, 10). The same was supported by both the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers and the National District Attorney Association. The case, therefore, presents a clarity that the sentencing of Miller brought disagreements in opinions on whether the ruling took place following the provisions of the 8th and 14th Amendments or in violation of those rules.
I am of the view that the sentencing may have been done in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments considering that Miller was 14 years old at the time the event took place. This opinion is directly based on the provisions of the rule of law which are aligned to the amendments in the discussion, but from the arguments presented by the Alabama court, I contend that the ruling deviated from the norm to serve the penological aim which is justifiable. The penology deals with the practices of societies and attempts of repressing criminal activities. His sentencing was, therefore, going to serve as an example to other youths like Kuntrell that the law does not excuse minors in case of any violation.
Ahranjani, Maryam, Andrew G. Ferguson, and Jamin B. Raskin. Youth Justice in America. , 2015. Internet resource.
Beauchaine, Theodore P, and Stephen P. Hinshaw. The Oxford Handbook of Externalizing Spectrum Disorders. , 2016. Print.
Bornstein, Marc H, and Tama Leventhal. Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science: Volume 4. , 2015. Print.
Heide, Kathleen M. Understanding Parricide: When Sons and Daughters Kill Parents. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.
Siegel, Larry J, and Brandon Welsh. Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice, and Law. , 2015. Print.
Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. , 2014. Print.
Tanenhaus, David S, and Franklin E. Zimring. Choosing the Future for American Juvenile Justice. New York: New York University Press, 2014. Internet resource.
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