Over the last few years, there has been much debate regarding efforts in Connecticut to rethink how young adults should be treated in the realm of criminal law. Courts have long held that a person who is 18 years old or older should be fully responsible for his or her actions. Defendants under the age of 18 are typically granted considerations based on the idea that a minor’s brain is not yet fully developed.
In Connecticut, specifically, Governor Dannel P. Malloy has championed the idea of creating a separate court system for young adults up to age 23. Such a system would take able to take into account a defendant’s development and other factors when determining sentencing and the prospect of rehabilitation. Late last month, a ruling by a federal judge in Connecticut gave additional credibility to the concept of a young adult justice system by ordering a new sentencing hearing for a man convicted of committing murder at the age of 18.
A Violent History
The case in question involved a Bridgeport man, now age 42, who was convicted of two murders that he committed in May of 1994. At the time, the man was just 18 years and 20 weeks old. The young man was also a member of a street gang called the Latin Kings, and the murders were part of a “mission” assigned by gang leaders.
Court documents indicate that the man had joined the Latin Kings when he was just 15. He testified that he had tried to leave the gang before the murders and that he believed that he would be killed himself if he had not carried out his mission. He was indicted by a grand jury in December of 1994 and was convicted in September of 1995 on three counts of Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering (VCAR), which included the two murders, and several other charges. He was sentenced to four concurrent terms of mandatory life without parole.
A New Look
In the years since his conviction and sentencing, the man has mounted numerous appeals. The most recent was heard by Chief U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall. In her ruling, Judge Hall referred to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama from 2012 that required judges to consider a murder defendant’s age and other factors before sentencing them to life without parole. While Miller only applied to juvenile defendants, only one 18-year-old defendant has been sentenced life without parole in federal court since it was handed down.
Judge Hall ordered that the defendant be granted a new sentencing hearing, which could take place as early as June of this year. She determined that scientific evidence supports the idea that life sentences without parole should not be mandatory for “offenders who were 18 years old at the time of their crimes.” Her ruling held that an offender can be sentenced to life without parole, but such a sentence must take into account the defendant’s maturity and whether the sentence is truly appropriate.
If the ruling is appealed when the new sentence is handed down, it will be up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if it will take up the matter.
Contact Us for Help
When a young adult is charged with a crime, there are many factors for prosecutors and judges to consider. If you or a member of your family is facing criminal charges, an experienced Connecticut criminal defense attorney can help you understand all of your available options. Call 860-290-8690 to schedule a free, confidential consultation at Woolf Law Firm, LLC today.