HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut Supreme Court on Friday overturned a 100-year prison sentence that was imposed on a Hartford teenager in a murder case, saying juveniles cannot be treated the same as adults when being sentenced for violent crimes.
In a 5-2 ruling, justices ordered a new sentencing hearing for Ackeem Riley, who was 17 in November 2006 when he sprayed gunfire into a Hartford crowd from a passing car. Three bystanders were shot, including 16-year-old honor student Tray Davis, who died.
The court cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama in 2012. That decision held that imposing life imprisonment without the chance of parole on a juvenile homicide offender without considering the characteristics of youth — including “immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences” — violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
The Miller decision was one of three U.S. Supreme Court rulings since 2005 that “fundamentally altered the legal landscape for the sentencing of juvenile offenders to comport with the ban on cruel and unusual punishment,” Connecticut Justice Andrew McDonald wrote in the majority decision. The rulings also barred capital punishment for all juvenile offenders and prohibited life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juveniles in non-homicide cases.
McDonald wrote in Friday’s ruling, which overturned a state Appellate Court decision, that it didn’t appear trial Judge Thomas V. O’Keefe Jr. adequately considered Riley’s age at the time of the shooting.
“The court made no mention of facts in the presentence report that might reflect immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” McDonald wrote. “In the entire sentencing proceeding, only defense counsel made an oblique reference to age.”
Justices Carmen Espinoza and Peter Zarella dissented.
Adele Patterson, a senior assistant public defender who represented Riley in the appeal, said the state Supreme Court made the right decision.
“The court says that youth matters in sentencing,” she said. “Children cannot be sentenced the same way adults can.”
A spokesman for the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office said prosecutors were reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment. A new sentencing date for Riley, now 25, hasn’t been set.
State lawmakers are now considering a bill that would revamp Connecticut’s juvenile sentencing rules to conform to the U.S. Supreme court rulings. A similar measure failed last year.
There are about 50 Connecticut prisoners serving sentences of 50 or more years for crimes committed when they were under 18, and most are not eligible for parole. Defense lawyers say they expect more appeals involving the juvenile sentencing issue.
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