Life Without Parole for Juvenile Upheld

It is legally permitted to sentence a juvenile to life in prison without parole for helping plan a gang murder in 1994, even though he did not do he shooting, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday upheld the life sentence of Riley Briones Jr., founder of the Eastside Crips Rolling 30s in a series of violent gang crimes on the Salt River Indian Reservation of Arizona in the 1990s.

Although the U.S. Supreme Count has found unconstitutional the “mandatory life-without-parole sentencing of juvenile offenders, it did enumerate a series of factors trial judges should consider, among them factors was the rare juvenile whose crimes reflect “permanent incorrigibility.”

Briones was found by the trial judge to be among a class of “permanently incorrigible juvenile offenders” and eligible for life sentence. The portion of the appellate ruling upholding this finding was 2-1 vote, with Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain dissenting. He said he would have remanded the case for the limited purpose of re-analyzing whether Briones was in that rare class of juveniles eligible for life-without-parole sentence.

At age 15, Briones and four gang members planned to rob a Subway restaurant in 1994 when only one employee was there. The four ordered food while Briones waited in the car. Gunmen, after speaking to Briones, shot and killed the clerk then shot a maintenance man that Briones thought had seen them. They made off with $100 and the food they ordered.

Three weeks later, Briones helped plan to firebomb a rival gang member’s home and prepared the Molotov cocktails to be used. Although Briones was not there, fellow gang member threw the incendiary device, setting fire to the house with the family, including an 11-year-old girl inside. The child was not harmed.  But a few weeks later they bombed the same house again. Again the family was unharmed.

Briones also helped in a drive-by shooting at the same house. One year later he pistol whipped a gang member he knew had revealed he knew about the Subway murder. That gang member escaped an cooperated with police.

After another drive-by shooting at a house with a mother and child inside, Briones made sure those involved disposed of their clothes and accounted for the shell casings. After his arrest in 1995, he discussed escape, a plan to blow up the Salt River police station and kill a tribal judge and federal prosecutors.

At age 17, Briones was offered a 20-year prison term as a deal but refused, along with his father, a co-defendant in the case. Briones was convicted on all charges and sentenced to life in prison.

On appeal he argued the life sentence was inappropriate in his case and that his gang membership was part of youthful immaturity. He pointed to a dysfunctional childhood with parental drug and alcohol abuse and a history of family crime.

He also pointed to his rehabilitation in prison.

Judge Johnnie Rawlinson wrote the majority, joined by visiting Judge David Ezra of Hawaii. O’Scannlain partially dissented.

Case: US v. Briones, No. 16-10150




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