December 8, 2015.
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Gerald Bruce Lee,
District Judge. (1:14-cr-00347-1).
K. Martinez, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY,
Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant.
Jeannette McDonald, THE LAW OFFICE OF KEVA J. MCDONALD,
Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellee.
Boente, United States Attorney, Stephen M. Campbell, Tobias
D. Tobler, Assistant United States Attorneys, OFFICE OF THE
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant.
Salvato, SALVATO LAW, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.
AGEE and HARRIS, Circuit Judges, and Theodore D. CHUANG,
United States District Judge for the District of Maryland,
sitting by designation. Judge Agee wrote the opinion, in
which Judge Harris and Judge Chuang joined.
to 18 U.S.C. § 5032, the Government filed a motion to
transfer the Defendant -- who was a juvenile at the time of
the alleged offense -- for prosecution as an adult for murder
in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
1959(a)(1). This crime carries a mandatory
statutory penalty of either death or life imprisonment. The
district court denied the Government's motion after
concluding that the prosecution would be unconstitutional
given that recent Supreme Court decisions have held that the
United States Constitution prohibits sentencing juvenile
offenders to either of these punishments. See Miller v.
Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012)
(mandatory life imprisonment); Roper v. Simmons, 543
U.S. 551, 125 S.Ct. 1183, 161 L.Ed.2d 1');">161 L.Ed.2d 1 (2005) (death
Government appeals the district court's decision,
contending that its transfer motion should have been granted
because the Defendant could have been sentenced to a term of
years up to a discretionary life sentence. For the reasons
set forth below, we affirm the district court's decision.
the constitutionality of the juvenile transfer provisions are
not at issue in this case, they form the backdrop for our
discussion. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Act (" the Act" ), 18 U.S.C. § 5031 et seq.,
was adopted to " remove juveniles from the ordinary
criminal process in order to avoid the stigma of a prior
criminal conviction and to encourage treatment and
rehabilitation." United States v. Robinson, 404
F.3d 850, 858 (4th Cir. 2005). The Act establishes
procedures for handling criminal charges brought against
juveniles in federal court. United States v. Juvenile
Male, 554 F.3d 456, 459 (4th Cir. 2009). To initiate a
proceeding under the Act, the Government files a delinquency
information rather than a criminal indictment. Id.
relevant part, the Act permits juveniles 15 years or older to
be transferred from juvenile status for prosecution as an
adult if they are alleged to have committed certain violent
crimes, including murder. 18 U.S.C. § 5032. The district
court has authority to grant the transfer to adult status if,
after a hearing, it finds by a preponderance of the evidence
that " transfer would be in the interest of
justice." Id. The statute delineates six
factors for the court to consider in this inquiry, including
the age and social background of the juvenile, the nature of
the alleged offense, and the juvenile's prior delinquency
was a few months shy of his eighteenth birthday, the
Defendant allegedly participated in a gang-related murder.
The Government filed a delinquency information and
certification against the Defendant pursuant to 18 U.S.C.
§ 5032 and simultaneously moved to transfer him for
prosecution as an adult for murder in aid of racketeering, in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1).
Defendant opposed the motion, arguing that transfer would be
unconstitutional given the Supreme Court's decisions
holding that juvenile offenders could not be sentenced to
either death or mandatory life imprisonment, which are the
only penalties authorized in § 1959(a)(1) for murder in
aid of racketeering. Separately, he also contested whether
transfer was in the " interest of justice" under
the § 5032 factors.
district court concluded that although the
interest-of-justice factors supported transfer, it would be
unconstitutional to grant the Government's motion. This
was so, it explained, because district courts do not have
discretion to sentence a defendant to less than the statutory
mandatory minimum penalty, which, for violating §
1959(a)(1), is life imprisonment. It recognized that under
the Supreme Court's decision in Miller v.
Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012),
imposing a mandatory life sentence on a juvenile, like the
Defendant, is constitutionally prohibited. The district court
further observed that no authority permitted it to impose a
sentence lower than the mandatory minimum provided by the
statute. In so doing, it rejected the Government's
argument that § 1959(a)(1) could be excised to permit a
sentence of a term of years for a juvenile offender.
Government noted a timely appeal, and we have jurisdiction to
consider this interlocutory appeal under the collateral order
doctrine. See United States v. Smith, 851 F.2d 706,
708 (4th Cir. 1988); see also United States v. Leon,
132 F.3d 583, 588-89 (10th Cir. 1997).
parties agree that the Supreme Court's recent decisions
prohibit a straight-forward transfer, prosecution, and
sentencing of a juvenile under the terms of the federal
murder in aid of racketeering statute. This is so because
over the past eleven years the Supreme Court has issued
several decisions affecting the constitutional boundaries of
sentences imposed on offenders who were juveniles when their
crimes were committed. Montgomery, 577 U.S. __, 136
S.Ct. 718, 725, 193 L.Ed.2d 599.
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 125 S.Ct. 1183, 161
L.Ed.2d 1 (2005), the Supreme Court held that the
Constitution's guarantee against cruel and unusual
punishment prohibited juvenile offenders from being sentenced
to death. Id. at 578 (" The Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendments forbid imposition of the death penalty
on offenders who were under the age of 18 when their crimes
were committed." ). In Graham v. Florida, 560
U.S. 48, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed.2d 825 (2010), the Supreme
Court held that the Constitution also prohibits juvenile
offenders convicted of nonhomicide offenses from being
sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Id.
at 82. The Supreme Court concluded in Miller
that the Constitution prohibits juvenile offenders who commit
murder from being sentenced to mandatory life without parole.
132 S.Ct. at 2460. And, most recently, in Montgomery v.
Louisiana, 577 U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 718, 193 L.Ed.2d 599
(2016), the Supreme Court clarified that Miller contained
both a substantive and procedural component:
Because Miller determined that sentencing a child to life
without parole is excessive for all but the rare juvenile
offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption, it
rendered life without parole an unconstitutional penalty for
a class of defendants because of their status--that is,
juvenile offenders whose crimes reflect the transient
immaturity of youth.
. . . . Miller, it is true, did not bar a punishment for all
juvenile offenders, as the Court did in Roper[, but it] did
bar life without parole . . . for all but the rarest of
To be sure, Miller's holding [also] has a procedural
component. Miller requires a sentence to consider a juvenile
offender's youth and attendant characteristics before
determining that life without parole is a proportionate
sentence. . . .
577 U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 718, 734, 193 L.Ed.2d 599.
in the context of the foregoing decisions that we examine the
statute under which the Government seeks to prosecute the
Defendant: murder in aid of racketeering. This offense is
included in the federal violent crimes in aid of racketeering
activity statute, which provides, in relevant part:
(a) Whoever, as consideration for the receipt of, or as
consideration for a promise or agreement to pay, anything of
pecuniary value from an enterprise engaged in racketeering
activity, or for the purpose of gaining entrance to or
maintaining or increasing position in an enterprise engaged
in racketeering activity, murders, kidnaps, maims, assaults
with a dangerous weapon, commits assault resulting in serious
bodily injury upon, or threatens to commit a crime of
violence against any individual in violation of the laws of
any State or the United States, or attempts or conspires so
to do, shall be punished--
(1) for murder, by death or life imprisonment, or a fine
under this title, or both; and for kidnapping, by
imprisonment for any term of years or for life, or a ...