Time to update you on some past stories: what happened to Harry Ollison, what's going to happen to teens sentenced to life in prison without parole, and judicial opinions I'd like to see.
Life for teens. A year ago, I mentioned a news story which pointed out that America and Somalia are the only countries which voted against a United Nations resolution calling for the banning of life without parole for juveniles. Outside of those two countries, there are only about a dozen juveniles in the world serving such sentences. There are nearly 2300 juveniles serving LWOP sentences in this country.
Although the Supreme Court has waded into the 8th Amendment thicket on a number of occasions, that's been almost exclusively limited to capital cases. Outside of that "qualitatively different" penalty, ever since the Court upheld the California "three-strikes" law five years ago, it's been reluctant to engage in any analysis of just how lengthy a sentence would have to be to run afoul of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. The short answer would seem to be "lots"; last term the Court denied cert in an Arizona case where the defendant had gotten 200 years for possession of child pornography.
Last week, though, the court granted cert in two cases from Florida involving sentences of life imprisonment without parole imposed on two juveniles in non-capital cases, one involving a 13-year-old who was convicted of raping an elderly woman, and the other a 17-year-old who was sentenced to life without parole after committing a home invasion robbery while on probation. They'll be argued next year. Interestingly, the court didn't consolidate them for briefing and argument, leaving open the possiblity of two different results.
Ollison. A few weeks back, I mentioned the 8th District's decision in the case of State v. Ollison, affirming a 3½-year prison sentence for a 76-year-0ld Korean War veteran with no prior criminal record who fired a shotgun from 35 yards away at someone who'd been routinely harassing him. I'd focused on the concurrence, which criticized the prosecutor's office for not offering a plea bargain. The Plain Dealer picked up the story, and there were some heated words directed at the judge from the prosecutor's office.
Ollison's case had been remanded because of failure to properly impose post-release controls, and yesterday I just happened to have a pretrial in the courtroom next to where Harry's case was going to be heard. His lawyer was trying to work out any kind of deal which would keep Harry from having to go back to prison. Wasn't going to happen; the prosecutor came up and announced that his office wasn't going to budge from the sentence.
That's the legally proper result; working out a modification of the conviction and sentence at this point would have required some creative lawyering. You hoped that somehow that would happen, and everybody would come up with something that was fair and reasonable. Somehow, it almost never works out that way.
Brevity is the soul of... justice? I've done a number of posts on judicial writing, some of them bemoaning the tendency in appellate opinions to devote pages of exposition on what has any more become hornbook law. Just how many times do we need to be told of the standards used in determining insufficiency and weight of the evidence arguments?
The other extreme can be found in a 1970 Michigan court of appeals decision; the entirety of the opinion is this:
The appellant has attempted to distinguish the factual situation in this case from that in Renfroe v. Higgins Rack Coating and Manufacturing Co., Inc. (1969), 17 Mich.App. 259, 169 N.W.2d 326. He didn't. We couldn't.
Affirmed. Costs to appellee.