April 29, 2013
Case Brief: Miller v. Alabama (2012)
The case of Miller v. Alabama (2012) is the result of Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals case No. 10-9646, which involves a 14-year-old named Evan Miller who was convicted of aggravated murder, and sentenced by the Alabama state court to a mandatory term of life in prison without parole. Miller and a friend assaulted Miller's neighbor, and set fire to his home after spending the evening drinking alcohol and using drugs. As a result of his actions, the neighbor died. Miller was originally charged as an adult; however, his case was removed to adult court, and he was charged with murder and arson. During the trial, the jury found Miller guilty of the crime, and he was sentenced to a punishment of life without parole as statutorily mandated (Supreme Court of the United States, 2011).
The legal issue present in this case is if sentencing a 14-year-old to life in prison without parole is considered as cruel and unusual punishment. Miller appealed his case on the grounds that his conviction violated both the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. To back his claims, Miller presented the cases of Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 560, which holds that "a minor cannot be sentenced to death and that a minor cannot be imprisoned for life for a non-homicidal crime, respectively, as evidence that his conviction contravenes nationally held standards of decency" (Cornell University Law School, 2012).
This particular case is very interesting because it pushes the Supreme Court to address several questions about the American legal system, and where the line is drawn when punishing juvenile offenders. It questions whether a juvenile convicted of murder violates the Constitutional rights that prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, and it questions that violation when imposed on a juvenile "as a result of a mandatory sentencing scheme that categorically precludes consideration of the offender's young age or any other mitigating circumstances" (Cornell University Law School, 2012). Sources, Purposes, and Jurisdictions
There are many sources in which today's laws are derived from. In the United States, the highest form of law is the Constitution. It is not where specific laws are outlined, but rather restricts the policing powers of the nation's government, and contains limits on the "nature and extent" of criminal law that the government can execute. The majority of these limits are contained within the Bill of Rights (Schmalleger, Hall, & Dolatowski, 2010). The case of Miller v. Alabama (2012) challenges the sentence imposed upon Miller based upon the Bill of Right's Eight Amendment, which prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishments. It also challenges the sentence based upon the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits the deprivation of life, liberty, or property imposed by state and local governments without due process, and requires equal protection under the law to everyone within each state's jurisdiction (Independence Hall Association, 2012).
Another important source of laws is common law, which is also known as case law, and statutory law. In the United States, the legal is known as a common law system, which gives tremendous authoritative power to common law based on the principle that "it is unfair to treat similar facts differently on different occasions" (Arnold-Baker, 1996). Case laws are decisions previously made by the courts that have accrued over time that attorneys refer to when making their arguments for a case. They are also used by judges to make a decision on a new case when there is no specific law that applies to the case. Statutory laws are statutes or formal written codes created by legislature or governing bodies that have the authority to make laws (Schmalleger, Hall, & Dolatowski, 2010). In the original court case that prompted Miller...