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Supreme Court to rule on life sentences for juveniles convicted of homicide

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in three cases. In Jackson v. Hobbs [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will consider whether the imposition of a life-without-parole sentence on a 14-year-old child convicted of homicide violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment [text] prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. The court has also been asked to decide whether such a sentence violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments when it is imposed upon a 14-year-old who did not personally kill the homicide victim, and whether such a sentence violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments when it is imposed upon a 14-year-old as a result of a mandatory sentencing scheme that categorically precludes consideration of the offender's young age or any other mitigating circumstances. The case will be heard in tandem with Miller v. Alabama [docket; cert. petition, PDF]. The Supreme Court ruled last year in Graham v. Florida [JURIST report] that the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishments prohibits the imprisonment of a juvenile for life without the possibility of parole as punishment for the juvenile's commission of a non-homicide offense.

In Magner v. Gallagher [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will determine whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act [text], and, if so, whether they should be analyzed under a burden shifting approach, a balancing test, a hybrid approach or some other test. There is a split among the circuit courts over which standard to apply. Respondents are rental property owners who argue that the petitioners violated the Fair Housing Act by "aggressively enforcing" the local housing code. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for petitioners, allowing the disparate impact claim [opinion, PDF].

Also Monday, the court denied certiorari in the appeal of Duane Buck, a convicted murderer in Texas. Justice Antonin Scalia ordered a stay of execution [JURIST report] in September pending a determination on whether to grant certiorari in the case. Buck was not arguing his innocence, but rather improper practices during his sentencing hearing. A clinical psychiatrist testified that Buck, a black man, was more likely to commit another crime due to his race, and thus should be given the death penalty. Justice Samuel Alito issued a statement respecting the denial of certiorari, joined by Scalia and Justice Stephen Breyer. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, saying this death sentence was "marred by racial overtones and a record compromised by misleading remarks and omissions made by the State of Texas in the federal habeas proceedings below."

The court also issued two per curiam decisions Monday. In KPMG v. Cocchi [opinion, PDF], the court vacated and remanded a decision on arbitration. In Bobby v. Dixon [opinion, PDF], the court reversed a lower court ruling that had overturned respondent's murder conviction.

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