On Appeal from the 22nd Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of St. Tammany, State of Louisiana. Trial Court No. 405,884. The Honorable August J. Hand, Judge Presiding.
Warren Montgomery, District Attorney, Covington, Louisiana and Kathryn W. Landrym, Special Appeals Counsel, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Attorneys for Appellee, State of Louisiana.
Cynthia K. Meyer, New Orleans, Louisiana, Attorney for Appellant, Jared David Graham.
BEFORE: GUIDRY, THERIOT, AND DRAKE, JJ.
[2014 1769 La.App. 1 Cir. 2]
The defendant, Jared David Graham, was charged by grand jury indictment with second degree murder, a violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. He was found guilty as charged and sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. His motion for reconsideration of sentence was denied. The defendant appealed his conviction and sentence, arguing, inter alia, that the sentence was excessive for a sixteen-year-old and that the trial court erred in not granting the motion to reconsider sentence. The facts of this case are set out in full in a previous unpublished opinion from this court. See State v. Graham, 11-0380 (La.App. 1 Cir. 9/14/11), 90 So.3d 543, 2011 WL 4484280 (unpublished). We affirmed the conviction and sentence, finding in particular that the trial court was not required to deviate from the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor without parole and that it did not abuse its discretion in finding the defendant failed to clearly and convincingly show that because of unusual circumstances he was a victim of the legislature's failure to assign sentences that were meaningfully tailored to his culpability, the gravity of the offense, and the circumstances of the case. See Id.
The defendant applied for writ of certiorari, which was granted in part by our supreme court. In a per curiam opinion, our supreme court noted that after it issued its decision, and while the defendant's writ was pending in the Louisiana Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. __, __, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 2466, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), determined that mandatory life imprisonment without parole for those offenders under the age of 18 years at the time they committed a homicide offense violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of " cruel and unusual punishments." State v. Graham, 11-2260 (La. 10/12/12), 99 So.3d 28 (per curiam). Our supreme court found that unlike the [2014 1769 La.App. 1 Cir. 3] case in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed.2d 825 (2010) (Eighth Amendment precludes sentencing juvenile offenders to life imprisonment without parole for nonhomicide crimes), the Miller court did not establish a prohibition against life imprisonment without parole for juveniles, but instead required that a sentencing court consider an offender's youth and attendant characteristics as mitigating circumstances before deciding whether to impose the harshest possible penalty for juveniles. Accordingly, the Court granted the defendant's
writ and remanded the matter to the district court to conduct a sentencing hearing in accord with the principles enunciated in Miller and to state the reasons for reconsideration and sentencing on the record. In all other respects, the defendant's application was denied. See Graham, 99 So.3d at 29.
On remand, the trial court conducted a sentencing hearing pursuant to Miller. Based on testimony adduced at the hearing, the trial court vacated the original sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence and resentenced the defendant to life imprisonment at hard labor with the benefit of parole. The defendant now appeals, designating three assignments of error. We affirm the sentence.
ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR NOS. 1, 2, and 3
In these three-related sentencing assignments of error, the defendant argues, respectively, that the trial court failed to comply with Miller in resentencing him; the trial court at the Miller hearing erred in relying on La. C.Cr.P. art. 878.1; and the sentence imposed is excessive.
The defendant argues that the trial court did not comply with the principles enunciated in Miller. According to the defendant, the trial court was required to consider all the facts and circumstances of the case and his unique experiences and characteristics, rather than " solely" his age. The defendant contends that rather [2014 1769 La.App. 1 Cir. 4] than considering his unique characteristics and the specific facts of this crime, the trial court merely took into account his youth and stated that there was a " possibility of improvement in a young man's life."
In compliance with the remand by our supreme court, the trial court conducted a Miller sentencing hearing. Three witnesses testified at the hearing on remand: the defendant's mother, the victim's mother, and a friend of the defendant and his mother. The defendant's mother testified at the hearing about the defendant's early life, his troubled upbringing, his relationship with an abusive father, and his problems with being bullied and having difficulty understanding things. In its reasons for vacating the defendant's sentence and resentencing him to life imprisonment with the benefit of parole, it is clear, as required under Miller, that the trial court thoroughly considered the defendant's youth, the possibility for rehabilitation, and the many other factors presented at the sentencing hearing:
In the matter of State of Louisiana versus Jared Graham pursuant to instructions by the higher courts of this State, the Court has conducted a new sentencing hearing relative to his previous sentence pronounced by the Court in the matter of State of Louisiana versus Jared David Graham, docket number 487142.
The Court after hearing the testimony of the witnesses that are here before the Court, particularly Ms. Williams, I thought it was quite moving that she would be here and advocate, I'm sorry, Ms. Landor, the mother of Mr. Williams, that she would advocate for the possibility of parole.
The troubled history for a young man at such a young age that has been involved in the death of another person really makes me think sometimes. It makes me wonder sometimes in this job.
But I do recognize that there is a possibility of improvement in a young man's life. I don't think the incident in question as I recall the facts warrant that Mr. Graham ...