Three Maryland Men Convicted as Minors Get Life Sentences Overturned

In three separate rulings, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals tossed out the life-without-parole sentences imposed against three men. The cases show the special circumstances that are involved in sentencing any youthful offender in a murder case. In each case, the offender was under 18 years old at the time of the crime, and, in each case, the sentencing judge did not do a meaningful analysis of the offender’s youth and potential for rehabilitation before issuing the sentences. Based upon recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, a court may only sentence an under-18 offender to life without parole after first concluding that the offender’s acts showed a rare degree of “irreparable corruption.”

Each of the men who won their recent appeals had been convicted of first-degree murder. Aaron Holly, along with a 24-year-old man, was convicted in the shooting death of a Baltimore County woman in a botched robbery. Marcus Tunstall, while in the company of an older man, shot three people in a string of drug-related robberies. Kenneth Alvira and two 19-year-old men carjacked a woman. As part of the carjacking, the driver was stabbed and died from her wounds. Holly and Tunstall were 17 at the time of their crimes; Alvira was 16.

In each case, the trial judge who delivered the sentence focused on the crimes and the victims. The judge in Holly’s case pointed out that the murder occurred “in broad daylight in front of children outside” and that Holly and Gardner “shot her like she was some kind of animal to be hunted.” The judge also made reference to “the purposes of sentencing, in particular the purpose of deterrence and punishment.” Tunstall’s judge pointed out that “three young men were killed execution style” and that “the only thing that is really appropriate is retribution.” Alvira’s judge made similar statements, pointing out the “horrific, senseless” nature of the crime and stating that the victim “was completely innocent.”

In none of the three cases did the judge engage in a meaningful, significant analysis of the accused’s potential for rehabilitation. All of the sentencing judges focused instead on punishment and deterrence. Alvira’s judge stated that “I do not see any hope of rehabilitation” but went no further in addressing the accused’s rehabilitative possibilities. In light of certain recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, that made these sentences improper.

In 2012, the high court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for offenders under age 18 violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments. That ruling added that the law requires judges sentencing such offenders to “take into account how children are different [from adults], and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.” Under-18 offenders are legally children, and “children are constitutionally different from adults” when it comes to criminal sentencing because children are considered to have a lower degree of culpability and a greater potential for change.

Earlier this year, the high court issued another ruling, Montgomery v. Louisiana, which stated that the prohibition against mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, along with the requirement for judges to consider a juvenile offender’s lack of maturity and potential for rehabilitation, applied retroactively. This meant that any under-18 offender sentenced to life without parole without the required analysis was sentenced unconstitutionally, regardless of whether the sentencing occurred before or after 2012.

As each of Holly, Tunstall, and Alvira’s sentences clearly lacked this required analysis, the appeals court reversed all three of the sentences. Each case was sent back to the trial court in order for those courts to determine whether their crimes demonstrated the sort of “irreparable corruption” that would permit a life-without-parole sentence or whether the evidence showed that the offender acted due to “the transient immaturity of youth.”

These recent rulings demonstrate that each case is different, and, in some circumstances, certain types of defendants may be entitled to greater protection under the law. If you or a loved one have been charged with a serious crime, you should contact capable criminal defense counsel right away. Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has spent many years working to protect the rights of the accused. Our office works diligently to put on a strong defense for each case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Maryland Court Upholds Sentence for Conspiracy and Murder Convictions, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 6, 2016

Maryland Court Reviews Allegations of an “Illegal Sentence” in Criminal Case, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Jan. 22, 2016

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