Ninety Year Sentence Void for Juvenile Convicted of Murder

Psychologists have recognized that the human brain is not fully matured when the rest of the body may appear mature.  Likewise, a person’s ability to exercise good judgment develops well past the age of 18.  This issue is usually not a consideration when a juvenile is charged in juvenile court.  Indeed, the primary purpose of the juvenile court system is rehabilitation.

The immature judgment and other features of being a juvenile become a consideration in sentencing when a juvenile is charged as an adult in a serious case, especially when if convicted, the sentence involves a very long sentence or life sentence without the possibility of parole (LWOP).  This is because such a sentence implicates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.  

Many courts have recognized this sentencing issue and ruled in different ways on whether a long sentence for a juvenile violates the Eighth Amendment.

Finally, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama (2011) ______ U.S. ______ [132 S. Ct. 2455] that before a judge sentence a juvenile to a LWOP sentence or one that is the functional equivalent, the sentencing judge must “taken into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocability sentencing then to a lifetime in prison. “Miller, supra, 132 S. Ct. at 2469.

Such difference between adults and children are relevant in sentencing insofar as children are often “immature, impetuous and fail to realize the risk and consequences” of certain conduct” Miller.  The Miller court further indicated that a judge may consider the juvenile’s home environment, “from which he cannot usually extricate himself – no matter how peer pressure may have affected him, a youth’s “inability to deal with police officers” and “his incapacity to assist his own attorneys.”

The larger, more biological, issues are that the court should consider are how a juvenile may have a higher possibility of rehabilitation than an adult because the youth’s brain is simply not fully developed.

This background is relevant toward considering the conviction of Donald Ray Dokens for first degree murder and the attempted murder of another.  At the time of the crime, Dokens was fifteen years old.  The jury found that the crimes were committed for the benefit of a criminal street crime.  They took place in Los Angeles.

Dokens had been riding his bike when he passed by a house with many people congregated on the porch.  A man on the porch stared at Dokens and Dokens stopped.  The man nodded at Dokens as if he knew the young man.

Dokens returned to the house with a revolver under his sweatshirt.  He pulled out the gun and stopped his bike.  He stood in the street straddling the bike.  He then shot about five to six shots at the people on the porch.

The shots hit a baby and a man.  The man died, but the baby survived.  Dokens rode his bike away from the scene, later burning his sweatshirt in a vacant lot.  

Witnesses from the party rather quickly advised the police about the clothing of the suspect.  Police found the sweatshirt about a day later when they responded to a call to report a fire in a vacant lot.  Near the burned sweatshirt were two spiral notebooks with the name Donald Dokens throughout.

Police arrested Dokens the next day.  Dokens had a crude tattoo on his arm that said “TFR,” signifying a part of street gang called Fudge Town Mafia Crips. “TFR,” a gang expert at trial testified, referred to the shooters in the Fudge Town Mafia Crips.  There were twelve to fifteen shooters known as TFR within the Fudge Town Mafia Crips.

A jury convicted Donald Dokens as an adult of both murder and attempted murder.  The jury also found true that the crime was committed to benefit the TFR as part of the Fudge Town Mafia Crips.  The judge sentenced Dokens to 90 years to life in prison.

On appeal, Dokens alleged that a sentence of 90 years to life is the equivalent of life without parole and violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment as construed in Miller, supra.

The Second Appellate agreed that the “harsh sentencing” of the trial court judge (Pat Connolly) was in error because he did not methodically lay out his reasoning for the sentence after considering the factors Miller required to be evaluated by a judge.  

The appellate court thus remanded the case back to the trial judge to consider the youthfulness of Mr. Dokens in crafting the sentence.  It said Miller “expressly requires the sentencing court to take into account how children are different and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.” 

For more information about the issues in this juvenile case, please click on the following articles:
  1. Sentence for Juvenile of 100 Years is Cruel and Unusual Punishment For Aiding and Abetting Murder
  2. Thirty Years to Life Sentence For Juvenile Sex Crime Defendant Not Cruel and Unusual Punishment
  3. Sentence of 50 Years to Life For Teenager For First Degree Murder Not Cruel and Unusual Punishment
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