Eric Long, then seventeen, along with two adult offenders, aged 25 and 26, was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder arising out of a shooting on I-75 in Hamilton County involving assault style weapons. At a joint sentencing hearing with the two adult co-defendants, Long was sentenced to consecutive terms of life without parole on the homicide counts.
In 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to impose a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole on a juvenile offender. But in Ohio, such a sentence is discretionary, not mandatory. The U.S. Supreme Court has also made it clear in a spate of recent decisions that the hallmarks of youth–immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences–must be taken into account when sentencing juvenile offenders.
In reviewing the Long case, the Ohio justices unanimously agreed that a trial court must consider youth as a mitigating factor in imposing a sentence of life without parole on a juvenile offender, and has considerable discretion in the weight the factor of youth deserves. But the justices split 5-2 on whether the trial court actually and properly did consider the youth factor in this case, with the majority finding the case had to be sent back for resentencing to be sure that the defendant’s youth was given the proper consideration in the sentencing mix. Read the analysis of the merit decision in Long here.
- A court, in exercising its discretion under R.C. 2929.03(A), must separately consider the youth of a juvenile offender as a mitigating factor before imposing a sentence of life without parole. (Miller v. Alabama, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), followed.)
- The record must reflect that the court specifically considered the juvenile offender’s youth as a mitigating factor at sentencing when a prison term of life without parole is imposed.
What Happened on Remand
Long was resentenced on May 29, 2014, by Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Ethna Cooper, the same judge who had sentenced him originally.
At the re-sentencing hearing, Long’s counsel focused on how Long was an impressionable 17 year old whose bad decisions were influenced by his much older co-defendants. Defense counsel emphasized the point that Long will be a changed person if he were to get 30 years in prison instead of life without parole.
The prosecution argued that Long, although 17 years old at the time, was not some naïve teenager that was manipulated by his co-defendants, but already a hardened criminal. Since being imprisoned, Long has disregarded the rules, disrespected the staff, and started a drug trafficking ring. His girlfriend has now been convicted of trafficking marijuana because he had her smuggle marijuana into prison to sell. Because of this, Long has been transferred to Lucasville. Further, Long’s clinical report states that he is deceitful, impulsive, aggressive, and has reckless disregard for the safety of others. Considering his crimes and his propensity for violence, the mitigating factor of his youth is outweighed by aggravating factors.
Long’s stepfather, Shawn Hutchins, was permitted to address the court about Long’s character. Hutchins told the court that Long had been a straight A, honor roll student who played basketball, football, and baseball. Long was a good kid, but grew up without a father and was picked on and bullied. As a result, Long started to act out in order to fit in. Now that he is in prison, Long is acting out in order to protect himself.
At the end of the hearing, Judge Cooper expressly stated that she had considered Long’s youth and the influence of the two older co-defendants at his original sentencing hearing, but had found that these factors were outweighed by the horrific acts he engaged in. Now that it is four years later, the judge said she’d hoped to see that Long had learned from the past and started to turn his life around. But in re-reviewing all pertinent information, the juvenile bind-over, the pre-sentence investigations, and particularly Long’s institutional behavior of fighting, and procuring drugs, show the opposite. Further, the report from the Court Clinic report reflects a man that shows no remorse, who has made a conscious decision to continue his life of crime, and who has failed to act on the many opportunities he has had to try and reduce his sentence. In re-sentencing Long to life without the possibility of parole, Judge Cooper had this to say:
“I desperately wanted youth to be your mitigating factor, but there is zero evidence before this Court, either at the time of the original sentencing or now, given the opportunity four years later to show me that youth is a mitigating factor. It pains me to say it, but I’m sorry. Given the evidence before this Court, the original sentence is going to stand.”
Read the complete re-sentencing transcript here. Long has again appealed his sentence to the First District Court of Appeals.
When this case was sent back for re-sentencing, Chief Justice O’Connor wrote separately, in part to underscore the fact that judges have great discretion in sentencing, and that nothing in this decision changes that. She emphasized the fact that in remanding the case for re-sentencing, the court was not expressing any opinion on the merits of Long’s sentence—which could remain the same after the proper considerations are undertaken. And that is exactly what happened.
Justice O’Donnell dissented from the part of the merit decision sending the case back for re-sentencing. He found that the trial court did sufficiently indicate that it had considered Long’s youth as a mitigating factor before imposing sentence, and the lack of a more substantial record on this point was because of Long’s failure to present anything specific for the judge to consider. That’s pretty much what happened again.
In Miller, majority opinion author Justice Elena Kagan wrote that because the court had held that a sentence of mandatory life without parole is unconstitutional for a juvenile offender, it did not need to decide if the Eighth amendment required a categorical ban on all life without parole sentences for juveniles. She noted, though, that “we think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty [life without the possibility of parole] will be uncommon.” Long will undoubtedly argue this on re-appeal. I think his chance of a re-hearing in front of the Supreme Court of Ohio is nil, but this issue remains an open question under federal law.
Student Contributor: Cameron Downer