Eye on the Court: Does a 52 Years to Life Sentence Violate Constitutional Rights of Marsh?

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

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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33 Comments

  1. ryankelly

    You are assuming that there will be a significant level of sociable change in Daniel. As he ages over the next 6 or 7 years, do you really think that he will lose his desire to kill or develop empathy for others and suddenly (or gradually) become a good citizen?  This is not just teenage misbehaviour.  He acted alone. He prepared. He hunted for his victims.  He thought he would be found not guilty by reason of insanity.  He thought it through.  The only teenage behaviour – which was his undoing – was his bragging to his friends.  If not for that, he could’ve gotten away with it.  I’m sure, as he ages, he won’t be so inclined to do that again.  Don’t assume that he will become more social as he ages.

    1. Tia Will

      Don’t assume that he will become more social as he ages.”

      No one is making the “assumption” that this would happen. However, he should be given the best, not the worse opportunity for it to occur in a setting that is safe for society.

    2. David Greenwald

      As Tia said, I’m not assuming anything, I’m just not precluding it and believe that a parole board in 25-30 year will be in a better position to judge than we are.

  2. Tia Will

    we have 25 years at least to figure it out.”

    And during that 25 years, as currently sentenced, we have condemned Mr. Marsh to the setting in which he is least likely to receive that intensive medical care that would give him the best chance for recovery. While I fully agree that Mr. Marsh is dangerous and should not be out on the streets. I strongly believe that the most appropriate placement for him would be in a secure mental hospital. The reason that I believe that the jury did not perceive this as the best option is that the prosecution succeeded in playing on their fears and convincing them erroneously that this was a less safe option.

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > The reason that I believe that the jury did not perceive this as the

      > best option is that the prosecution succeeded in playing on their

      >fears and convincing them erroneously that this was a less safe option.

      Interesting comment from someone who just chastised me for inferring “why” someone did something.

      Maybe the prosecution thinks that jail is the “best” option (and didn’t need to “trick” the jury “by playing on their fears” in to thinking that a hospital was a “less safe option”)…

      P.S. I bet the family of the worker killed at Napa hospital wished the guy was at a “more safe option” “Workers at Napa State Hospital are devastated by the murder of a health care worker at their facility that is raising hard questions about safety at the prison hospital.”

      P.P.S. Tia says she cares about health care workers and I’m wondering if she knows that many feel like this:
      ABC7: “When you go to work, do you fear you’re going to be hurt?”
      Female Nurse: “Absolutely. Every day.”
      http://abc7news.com/archive/7745374/
       

      1. Don Shor

        The reason that I believe that the jury did not perceive this as the best option

        If the jurors viewed their mandate narrowly and within the judge’s instructions (as I understand them),the sentence wasn’t their decision. They decided as to sanity. The judge did the sentencing.
        I could be wrong.

        1. Davis Progressive

          exactly don.  the jury doesn’t sentence him, the jury determine guilt or innocence.  in fact it’s illegal for them to consider sentencing when they determine guilt or innocence.

  3. Themis

     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.

    There is no possible way that anyone can know if “he will kill again” in 25 years.

    1. Davis Progressive

      exactly which goes to the point here – not that you should release marsh, but allow the decision to be made in the future based on facts and evidence rather than conjecture.

  4. theotherside

    “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.”

    This is totally acceptable sentencing.  If Marsh wanted the straight 25 to life, he perhaps should have murdered only one person.  The author appears to be devaluing the victim’s lives here.  25 to life per victim is appropriate.  If there were 5 victims slain as they slept in that house, would we still be OK with 25 to life?

    I absolutely believe Marsh is a serial killer who doesn’t just doesn’t actually qualify because he was arrested so swiftly by DPD. And thus could not rack up the qualifying body count.  He lacks any empathy for anyone, his victim’s are bugs that he is smashing with zero remorse.  There is no rehabilitation for such a person no matter what the setting is.  It is time to come to grips with the fact that are some people that just cannot be fixed and need to be removed from society.  I honestly find it sickening to read an article where the murderer is painted as a victim and DPD and YDA painted as the bad guy.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “This is totally acceptable sentencing.”

      we don’t know that.  the courts have yet to weigh in on whether they are or are not.

      ” If Marsh wanted the straight 25 to life, he perhaps should have murdered only one person.”

      that’s an absurd comment.  this isn’t about what marsh wants or doesn’t want.

      “The author appears to be devaluing the victim’s lives here.”

      no he’s not.  he’s simply not making them the only consideration.

      ” If there were 5 victims slain as they slept in that house, would we still be OK with 25 to life?”

      that’s like saying if he got 100 year sentence for one, would be still be okay with 100 year sentence for five.  at some point you can’t punish any more than you have.  so the only real question is what is the right and just sentence?

      “I absolutely believe Marsh is a serial killer who doesn’t just doesn’t actually qualify because he was arrested so swiftly by DPD. ”

      you’re entitled to your opinion of course, but you’re guessing.

      david did not argue he should be released, he argued that a parole board should make that decision, not the judge trying to guess into the future based on information at the age of 16 and 17.

  5. ryankelly

    If he is sentenced to 50+ years to life, he will be eligible to parole hearings starting around age 40.  If he is sentenced to 25 years to life, he would be eligible earlier – typically 7 years into his sentence, unless the Judge sets a longer minimum time.  So his lawyers are arguing for him to be eligible for parole at age 25?  Is this what the community really wants?

    1. South of Davis

      Ryan wrote:

      > Is this what the community really wants?

      Some in the “community” never want him to see the light of day, while many on the left think after a year in a “hospital” getting “treatment” we should let the “poor victim of cuts to school counseling budgets” out…

      1. Don Shor

        while many on the left think after a year in a “hospital” getting “treatment” we should let the “poor victim of cuts to school counseling budgets” out…

        Gosh, it seems unlikely to me that anybody on the left, right, or center thinks that.

        1. South of Davis

          Don wrote:

          > Gosh, it seems unlikely to me that anybody on

          > the left, right, or center thinks that.

          I’m friends with a wide variety of including many who are to the right of Frankly and to the left of Don (and Tia) who really do consider Marsh (and most other criminals) “victims” (and continue to remind me of all the problems we could solve if we only increased taxes and had more programs to help people)..

          P.S. I’m not going to post any details but let’s just say what many of my far right wing (tough on crime)  friends want to do with Marsh has a lot in common with what he did…

    2. Davis Progressive

      ryan: you need to look stuff up before you post.  under penal code 190, a person who gets a 25 to life sentence for first degree murder has to serve 25 years.

      1. theotherside

        Yes Frankly, they are missing the point.  Punishment does equal justice in a case where the crime was so egregious.  We have here a case in which someone did the worst thing imaginable.  Torture, murder, toying with their corpses.  She had to watch her husband bleed to death before she was stabbed multiple times.  And the ultra-left are calling what his sentence should be cruel and unusual.  They cannot fathom that a person is just broken, that a plethora of social programs cannot fix him.  So the blame is put on his meds, his counseling, the authorities; yet not on his parents.  Never understanding that despite their wanting to coddle him, given the chance he would cut their throat and store their iPhones in their orifices.

        They are sheep that think they can live amongst wolves then bad mouth the sheepdog for trying to protect them.  Yet the sheepdog returns night after night to protect them in spite of their protest.

        1. Barack Palin

          They are sheep that think they can live amongst wolves then bad mouth the sheepdog for trying to protect them.  Yet the sheepdog returns night after night to protect them in spite of their protest.

          Great analogy.  Claudia and Oliver’s Constitutional rights were violated that night?

           

        2. Davis Progressive

          in fairness all anyone is doing in this case is asking for it to be 25 to life as the statute reads rather than 52 to life which is questionably constitutional.  the only functional difference is that in 25 years a parole board would evaluate a 42 year old daniel marsh and determine whether he is still dangerous rather than fear and prejudice and presumption.  given the track record of parole boards, not quite sure what your fear is.

        3. South of Davis

          DP wrote:

          > which is questionably constitutional. 

          It is hard to believe that slave owners who not only killed killers like Marsh but but people that gave info to the British that wrote the constitution would have any problem with locking a killer up for more than 25 years…

        4. Tia Will

          Punishment does equal justice in a case where the crime was so egregious. “

          They cannot fathom that a person is just broken, that a plethora of social programs cannot fix him”

          If your premise is that this is “a broken” person ( with which I would agree), how can you possibly believe that “punishment” is warranted. If your premise is that society should be protected, I would agree. But what useful purpose would “punishment” serve?  What you are essentially arguing for is revenge, not justice. The recognition of brokenness would imply that his actions were beyond his control, which I would also agree with. If we truly believe that torture is wrong, as I do, how do we then justify the torture that we know that we will be consigning him to ?

        5. Miwok

          Tia, I am so glad you are a doctor. You are the kind of person epitomized through movies and television in only healing and helping, truly honoring the Hippocratic Oath. I admire that.

        6. theotherside

          Tia,

          Broken does not equate to insane as applied to Marsh…in my opinion.  There are monsters out there with no empathy, that kill without remorse.  They understand right from wrong but kill anyway because they want to.  I wouldn’t put Marsh on the same level as a Bundy or Manson, but he’s on the same plain.

          Crime has consequences (or at least it used to).  Punishment is one of those consequences (or at least it used to be).  Call it revenge if that’s your interpretation but I do not see it that way.  Revenge would be subjecting him to the same monstrous act he gave to his victim’s, I am not advocating for that.  But he is certainly not insane.

  6. theotherside

    And in the same fairness all we are asking is for 25 to life for each victim.  The fact that it is questionable is why we debate.  I am happy to leave it in the hands of a sound and professional DA’s office and a seasoned trial judge to determine.

    And yes I fear, I fear the possibility that such a dangerous person may be out one day to kill again in his 40’s.  You can fight for the killer, I will stand up for his victims.

      1. theotherside

        Well to clarify, life without parole means exactly what it says…. a life term without the possibility of parole.  What we are talking about here is 25 to life vs 50 to life with parole being a possibility at the conclusion of the determinant sentence.

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