Recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court and Michigan Supreme Court have led to more permissive, fact-based sentencing for juvenile offenders. But a recent 6th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion draws a bright line on who juveniles are.
The defendant in this case was a 20 year old who was charged with receiving child pornography. He had admitted to downloading the pornography, and his computer was found to have 261 images and 46 videos of children ages 4 to 12. He pled guilty.
What makes this case interesting is that the Defendant had been diagnosed with a condition called Human Growth Hormone Deficiency, in which the body does not produce enough of certain growth hormones and so physical maturity and sexual development are delayed. When evaluated by a clinical psychologist, the defendant had an IQ of 87 (a low average intelligence score) and a mental age of 15 1/2. The psychologist said that It is quite likely that in all ways other than chronological age, this individual was still a juvenile at the time of his arrest.
The trial court sentenced the defendant to the adult mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years. The judge said that even that sentence was too severe, but that he had to comply with the statutory minimum sentence. The defendant appealed, claiming that he should not be considered an adult for sentencing purposes given his development disability and mental age.
The Federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. After considering the recent Supreme Court cases involving juvenile sentencing, it found one thing consistent: they all cut off at age 18. It acknowledged, The Supreme Court treats juveniles differently because they ‘have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform, but found that a line still needed to be drawn.
The court found the alternative, a psychological evaluation of the mental maturity of each defendant, to be unsustainable in our current court system and noted that the analysis would have to apply to juveniles too. This could create a situation where a particularly mature juvenile would be treated as an adult in violation of the Supreme Court’s findings of cruel and unusual punishment.
While the court appeared sympathetic to the challenges faced by the defendant, it was unwilling to open the court to such maturity questions just because there may be occasions where a mandatory minimum sentence seemed unnecessarily harsh.
*Please note: Every case is different, and there may be some aspect of your particular case which may result in an outcome other than is described above. This post is not intended as legal advice and may not apply to your particular case. It is always best to contact our office for a consultation if you have been or believe you may be charged with a crime.