COA: 100-year sentence for juvenile not a constitutional violation

A DeKalb County man who as a juvenile pleaded guilty to two murders and was sent to prison for an aggregate 100 years was denied post-conviction relief after the Indiana Court of Appeals found his sentence did not violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment because he will be eligible for parole in 2040.

Aaron Brown filed a successive petition for post-conviction relief after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 489 (2012). Specifically, this ruling held the imposition of a life sentence without the possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders violates the Eighth Amendment.

As a 16-year-old in 1994, Brown pleaded guilty to murdering his mother and stepfather. Although the trial court considered his age a mitigating factor, it found the aggravating circumstances carried more weight and sentenced him to consecutive 50-year terms for each of his murder convictions.

Before the Court of Appeals, Brown argued the DeKalb Circuit Court did not properly consider his youth when his sentence was imposed, and under Miller, he is entitled to a new sentencing hearing.

Indiana countered Brown did not fall within the category of offenders contemplated by the Supreme Court in Miller. The Supreme Court found lifetime incarceration without the possibility of parole violates juvenile homicide offenders’ constitutional rights. Brown received a “Miller-compliant sentencing hearing” because he becomes eligible for parole when he is 62 years old.

The unanimous appellate panel agreed in Aaron Moran Brown v. State of Indiana, 18A-PC-3128.

“Brown is not a candidate for Miller review. The law is well settled that ‘[a] State may remedy a Miller violation by permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole, rather than by resentencing them,’” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote, citing Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 736 (2016).

“Brown did not receive a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole; rather, Brown is eligible for parole with an earliest possible release date of age sixty-two,” Travitas continued. “The fact that the widely-accepted remedy for a Miller violation is already available to Brown undercuts Brown’s claims that a Miller violation has occurred here.”

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