Judicial District of Tolland


     Habeas; Juveniles; Whether Sentence of Fifty Years Without the Possibility of Parole Imposed on Juvenile Convicted of Felony Murder Violated Eighth Amendment Prohibition Against Cruel and Unusual Punishments.  The petitioner was sentenced to fifty years incarceration on pleading nolo contendere to felony murder and other charges arising from crimes he committed when he was sixteen years old.  General Statutes § 54-125a provides that those convicted of felony murder are ineligible for parole.  The petitioner brought this habeas action claiming his sentence constituted the functional equivalent of life without parole and that it violated the eighth amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.  He relied on the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012).  In Graham, the Supreme Court held that a sentence of life without parole imposed on a juvenile convicted of a nonhomicide offense violates the eighth amendment and mandated that, if a life sentence is imposed on a juvenile, he or she must be afforded “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”  In Miller, the court extended Graham to bar mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles who commit homicide.  The court required that, in homicide cases where a juvenile is facing a possible penalty of life without parole, the sentencer must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances, particularly the offender's youth and attendant characteristics, before imposing punishment.  The habeas court, relying on State v. Riley, 140 Conn. App. 1, cert. granted, 308 Conn. 910 (2013), granted summary judgment for the respondent commissioner, ruling that the manner in which the petitioner was sentenced comported with the eighth amendment.  In Riley, the Appellate Court upheld a 100 year sentence imposed on a defendant who committed crimes when he was seventeen, finding that the sentence was valid under Miller in that the sentencing court was not required to impose that sentence and because the state’s current individualized sentencing procedures provide a sentencing court with discretion to consider any evidence presented in mitigation of a defendant’s sentence, including evidence of the defendant’s age, maturity and upbringing.  The habeas court found that, as in Riley, the sentence here was constitutional because the sentencing court had discretion to sentence the petitioner to a lesser term of imprisonment and because the court gave the petitioner an opportunity to present evidence in mitigation of his sentence.  The petitioner appeals, claiming the habeas court wrongly rejected his claim that Graham requires that he be given another opportunity to show that he should be released before the end of his term based on his demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.  The petitioner also contends that his sentence violated the eighth amendment under Miller in that the sentencing court did not take into account how children are different from adults and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.