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Name: U.S. v. Briones
Case #: 16-10150
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 05/16/2018

District court does not violate Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. 460, when it considers the “hallmarks of youth” factors at defendant’s resentencing and reimposes a life term. Defendant was the leader of a gang who helped plan and execute numerous violent crimes, including murder, on the Salt River Reservation. He was 17 years old when some of the crimes occurred. Defendant was convicted of a number of federal offenses. The district court sentenced him to life without parole. Based on the Miller decision, defendant’s request to vacate his original mandatory life sentence was granted. At resentencing the trial court imposed a life term, which is essentially life without parole because the federal system does not permit parole from life sentences. He appealed. Held: Affirmed. The Supreme Court held in Miller that a sentencing scheme that mandates life without parole for juvenile offenders violates the Eighth Amendment. Thus, a sentencing court is required to consider the distinctive characteristics of youth when considering the imposition of a life sentence on a minor. Defendant faulted the district court for failing to consider the distinct Miller factors, and not adequately weighing his in-prison rehabilitation. However, the record is replete with references to the Miller factors, which the court expressly affirmed it considered. Although the court’s statement of reasons for imposing a life sentence was brief, it was legally sufficient.

Defendant is not categorically ineligible for a life sentence. Defendant argued that a life sentence may not be imposed on a juvenile offender who did not actually kill, and as to the murder, he was not the shooter. Further, he argued the Eighth Amendment prohibits life sentences for juvenile offenders entirely. The Ninth Circuit disagreed. Miller did not bar a certain punishment for all juveniles, even though a life without parole term is limited to the “rare juvenile offender.” Both Miller and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016) 136 S.Ct. 718, expressly envision that some juveniles may be sentenced to life without parole, even those who did not actually kill.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: