The True Meaning of Miller

by Dwayne Hill

In Miller V. Alabama, the United States Supreme court extended it’s individualized sentencing requirement to homicide cases. While the defendant in Miller was under the age of 18 years old, at the time of his offense, and the court went into an in-depth analyst of the difference between children and adults, and why that distinction should be a mitigating factor considered by the sentencing court, nothing that Miller said about the defendant was mitigating circumstantially exclusive. In fact, in Miller, the Supreme court reasoned, just as the chronological age of a minor is itself a relevant mitigating factor of great weight, so must the background and mental and emotional development of a youthful defendant be duly considered in assessing his culpability. Miller, 132 S.ct., at 2467 (quoting Eddings V. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 116 (1982).

Both Miller and Graham likened life without parole sentences to the death penalty. By likening life without parole sentences to the death penalty, Miller and Graham makes relevant the Supreme court’s cases demanding individualized sentencing in capital cases. In particular, those cases have emphasized that sentencers must be able to consider the mitigating qualities of youth, as well as his background and the circumstances of his crime when imposing sentence.

The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment guarantees individuals the right not to be subjected to excessive sanctions. Roper, 543 U.S., at 560. That right, the Supreme court have explained, flows from the basic precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to both the offender and the offense. Id. (Quoting Weems V. U.S., 217 U.S. 349, 367 (1910)).

The mandatory sentencing scheme of title 18 Pa. C.S. § 1102 prevents those meting out punishment from considering mitigating circumstance, and runs afoul of the United States Supreme court cases requirement of individualized sentencing for defendants facing the most serious penalties. (It should be noted that this statute was ruled unconstitutional back in 1972 for the same reason, Commonwealth V. Bradley, 295 A.2d 842 (1972). The individualized sentencing requirement can no longer be legally or morally halved.

Pennsylvania has recognized for a long time now that a person’s present intellectual development and psychological maturity are elements of analysis that weigh against transfer to adult status. See. Pa. Const. Art. V, § 16 (q)(ii)(relating to schedule to Judiciary article); 42 Pa. C.S. § 6302 (2) and (3); 18 Pa. C.S. § 6310.1.; Hanson V. Hanson, 625 A.2d 1212, 1214 (Pa.Super. 1993).

As a general rule, the duty to support a child ends when the child turns 18 or graduates from high school. However, a parent may be required to support a child who, upon reaching the age of majority, has a mental or physical condition that prevents the child from being self-supporting. Id.

The test is whether the child is physically and mentally able to engage in profitable employment and whether employment is available to that child at a supporting wage. Id.

It is simply wrong to now divorce these dictums from the facts it address.

Unfortunately, there is no adult status, screening process on the revolving door of justice for people 18 and older. However, their presence in the system alone raises some red flags. Pre-adults who cannot read or write are being put in a adult system, tried and sentenced to spend the rest of their life in prison.