United States v. Moore: Sixth Circuit rejects Eighth Amendment challenge to ACCA

In United States v. Moore, No. 09-5935 (June 1, 2011), the Sixth Circuit rejected an Eighth Amendment challenge to a mandatory minimum fifteen-year sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e).

The defendant argued that his sentence was cruel and unusual as applied to him specifically, i.e., because of “his reduced culpability resulting from mental retardation,” which “transform[ed] an otherwise constitutional sentence into an unconstitutional one.”

Affirming its earlier holding in United States v. Tucker, 204 F. App’x 518, 521 (6th Cir. 2006), the court found that “[i]mposing a mandatory minimum sentence on a defendant with limited mental capabilities does not violate the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment.” The court acknowledged that in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 316 (2002), the Supreme Court held that mentally retarded defendants are “less culpable than average criminals” and therefore may not be executed. But Atkins rests on the premise that the “death penalty is ‘unique in its total irrevocability,’ ‘its rejection of rehabilitation of the convict as a basic purpose of criminal justice,’ and ‘its absolute renunciation of all that is embodied in our concept of humanity,’” (citations omitted), which "cannot be said of a statutorily-mandated sentence of fifteen years.”

The court also rejected the argument that the sentence is unconstitutional under Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011, 2030 (2010), explaining that Graham involved the “narrow” holding that “[t]he Eighth Amendment prohibits the sentence of life without parole for juvenile offenders who do not commit homicide.” As the defendant in Moore was neither a juvenile nor subject to a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, the court found the Graham analogy misplaced.

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