Any Given Sunday
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t watch a lot of football. The games are long and there’s that persistent risk of concussion. But a phrase you sometimes hear with football – “any given Sunday” – has a ring to it. During any particular game, the underdog could surprise everyone and upset a higher-ranked team.
So it is with the law. The Supreme Court of North Carolina issues opinions once or month or once every two months, but always on a Friday. And, so, on any given Friday, a defendant or a juvenile could surprise everyone and come out on top. The Court of Appeals issues opinions on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. So, you know, “any given Tuesday.”
But how do you get to a point where an upset is possible? One way is through motions. Over the past several months, my colleagues and I at the Office of the Appellate Defender (“OAD”) have been working with attorneys at the Office of the Juvenile Defender (“OJD”), the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, and Prisoner Legal Services on sample motions for various issues. You can find these motions on the OAD and OJD websites. The motions are designed in part to preserve legal arguments and, thus, to achieve that unexpected win on appeal. However, they also serve to educate judges and lawyers about specific legal issues. And who knows? One or more of the motions might win in trial court.
One set of motions involves the new offenses of making a false report of mass violence on educational property and communicating a threat of mass violence on educational property. The motions involve various free speech arguments. From the outside, free speech arguments can seem complicated. But have no fear – these motions provide case law and a roadmap for asserting free speech claims.
Another motion lays out an argument that the State should be required to give notice if it intends to seek a higher disposition on the ground that the juvenile committed the offense while on probation and then prove that the juvenile was on probation beyond a reasonable doubt. Juveniles are entitled to the same notice as adults. In addition, the State is required to prove every fact necessary to constitute the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), sentencing enhancements in criminal cases are treated as elements that the State is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The same logic should arguably apply to delinquency cases.
Finally, there is a batch a motions that all involve extending Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012) to some of its logical conclusions. For example, there is a motion arguing that the mandatory transfer of first-degree murder cases to adult court is unconstitutional. If judges are required to take youth into account before imposing an LWOP sentence, they should be required to do so before transferring the case to adult court. Another motion argues that the threshold for imposing the death penalty and mandatory LWOP sentences should be extended from 18- to 25-years old. Miller was premised on research into adolescent brain development. And, so, if that same research indicates that the adolescent brain does not finish maturing until the mid-20s, then the law should reflect that research, as well. Finally, there’s a motion arguing that felony murder should not apply to juveniles. In North Carolina, felony murder is based on deterrence. However, Miller explains that deterrence doesn’t work with kids because kids tend act impulsively without considering the consequences of their conduct.
All of these arguments are just that – arguments. Some may win, some will lose. But we won’t know unless we try. On any given day in court, anything is possible.