Listening to our keynote speaker this weekend talk about his case in Orange County where very egregious misconduct occurred, regarding a clearly and admittedly guilty individual, got me thinking back to our own Daniel Marsh case.
There are a number of key issues that the courts are going to have to work out, and probably not at the Yolo County level. The most immediate is whether the proposed sentence of 52 years to life would be in violation of Daniel Marsh’s constitutional rights.
There are some interesting issues that are raised here. For instance, the motion cites the recent US Supreme Court case that held that mandatory life imprisonment without parole for juveniles was unconstitutional.
Justice Elena Kagan, writing for that 5-4 majority, said, “By requiring that all children convicted of homicide receive lifetime incarceration without possibility of parole, regardless of their age and age-related characteristics and the nature of their crimes, the mandatory sentencing schemes before us violate this principle of proportionality, and so the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.”
At the same time she stressed that this did not affect those juvenile homicide offenders who had been sentenced to life without parole in states where it was not mandatory. On the other hand, she did strike down those sentencing requirements that prevent a jury from considering a juvenile’s “chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” as well as “the family and home environment that surrounds him — and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional.”
This case presents an interesting test because California by statute only allows 25 years to life as a maximum sentence. The DA’s office is attempting to sentence Marsh to 25 years to life for each murder plus the added time for special circumstances.
The question is whether this becomes a “de facto sentence of life without the possibility of parole,” as Mr. Marsh would not be eligible for parole until his late 60s.
Ms. Maupin’s daughter Victoria Hurd told the local press last week, “We want to see the defendant off the streets, we want to see him never secure freedom from incarceration for the rest of his life. We’re convinced from the evidence that was presented at the trial that he will kill again if he is back on the street so we want him incarcerated.
“He was very intentional in what he did and I don’t think that there’s any chance for his rehabilitation based on the evidence I heard in court. I think that once he’s released, he will kill again.”
Under a 25 to life sentence, Mr. Marsh would be eligible for parole in his early 40s, but given the magnitude of the crime he committed, it would be very hard to imagine a parole board granting parole at that point.
The idea that Mr. Marsh will be forever dangerous to the community may or may not be true. We previously reviewed literature on juvenile brain development, much of which notes that adolescents lack impulse control and the brain development lags behind physical changes.
For example, Jay Giedd, a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, explains that, during adolescence, the “part of the brain that is helping organization, planning and strategizing is not done being built yet…. It’s sort of unfair to expect [adolescents] to have adult levels of organizational skills or decision making before their brain is finished being built.”
Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, PhD at Harvard University’s brain imaging lab, wrote, “Just because they’re physically mature, they may not appreciate the consequences or weigh information the same way as adults do. So, [although] somebody looks physically mature, their brain may in fact not be mature.”
“When California condemns a young person to life behind bars, it utterly disregards the human capacity for rehabilitation and ignores the very real physical and psychological differences between children and adults,” said Ronald Hampton, Executive Director of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America. “Punishment should reflect the capacity of young people to change and mature.”
“Children do not have adult levels of judgment, impulse control, or ability to assess risks and researchers estimate that many will not reach full adult cognitive development until the age of 25,” said Carl Wicklund, Executive Director of the American Probation and Parole Association. “Therefore, it is irresponsible to impose an irrevocable sentence on youth who still have the ability to grow and develop positively.”
“No one can predict who a teen will be at age 40,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, “When I Die, They’ll Send Me Home.” “When California sentences a 16-year-old to die in prison, the state ignores what science, parents and teachers have long known: young people have tremendous potential to change, grow, and mature.”
On the one hand, I understand the concern expressed, not just by Ms. Hurd but also by many in the community, that we need to protect future residents from a potentially very dangerous individual.
On the other hand, parole boards are notoriously stingy on releases. It is not like the fact that Charles Manson has been eligible for parole, and has faced numerous parole boards, makes it any more likely that he will be released. Given the nature of the crime that Daniel Marsh was convicted of, it seems highly unlikely the board would ever release him, but shouldn’t that decision be left in the hands of professionals evaluating him at the time, rather than prosecutors who are presuming they can look into the future?
This is part of why I have such a problem with the book and talk by Lloyd Billingsley, which helps fan the fears and sensationalize the case.
For Mr. Billingsley, Daniel Marsh did not kill because he was a troubled young man with a history of mental illness, lacking proper care and treatment – he was a thrill-killer who “eviscerated” and “tortured” his victims for the sheer thrill and pleasure of it.
I do not even disagree that Mr. Billingsley is correct that Mr. Marsh, after being worn down by a lengthy interrogation, stated all of this and it was probably accurate. However, that’s is not the end-all of the explanation.
Is there a way that Daniel Marsh can be treated or rehabilitated at some point in the distant future? Hard to know. I know from talking to Linda White a few years ago, that a man who raped and killed her daughter when he was in his teens was able to get his life back together and earn release from prison down the line.
But her case also illustrates the nature of such rehabilitation. There were two young men who killed and raped her daughter. One of them was able to get his life turned around and earn his release from prison. The other was not.
The question that the court will have to grapple with in the Daniel Marsh case is whether the DA has the ability to stack the charges and make the sentence 52 to life rather than 25 to life and whether a 52 to life violates the spirit of the prohibition against LWOP for juvenile offenders.
I will go out on a limb and say that Judge David Reed will not dare to change the sentencing and will leave it to an appellate court to evaluate it. After all, it is not a question of immediate import – we have 25 years at least to figure it out.
—David M. Greenwald reporting