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Court to Consider Allowing Lengthier Prison Terms for Some Juveniles

June 24, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today agreed to consider allowing lengthier prison terms for some juvenile offenders who violate federal laws.

The court said it will hear a Bush administration appeal seeking a longer sentence for a minor convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a fatal drunken- driving accident on an Indian reservation in Minnesota.

The minor, identified as RLC, was 16 when the car he was driving smashed into the rear-end of a car on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota.

LaTesha Lynn Mountain, a passenger in the second car, was thrown into the front seat. She died from head injuries.

RLC was convicted in federal court of involuntary manslaughter for drunken and reckless driving that caused a death.

At the urging of federal prosecutors, the judge sentenced RLC to three years in prison at the Missouri River Adolescent Center in Chamberlain, S.D. The penalty is the maximum allowed for that crime under federal law.

But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the sentence, and a judge then reduced it to 18 months in prison. RLC completed the sentence in March and was released.

The 8th Circuit court said that if RLC had been an adult, the maximum term he could have received would have been 21 months under federal sentencing guidelines that took effect in 1987.

The appeals court noted that the guidelines take into account the individual’s criminal history. It said a three-year term for involuntary manslaughter only would be allowed if the adult had an extensive criminal record or the crime was particularly egregious.

Bush administration lawyers said the maximum penalty should be the one defined by law for the particular crime, not the guidelines.

The maximum term is the one ″authorized by the law describing the offense of conviction, not the top of the presumptive sentencing range defined″ by the new guidelines, Justice Department lawyers said.

The 8th Circuit court said the government’s interpretation would violate the intent of the sentencing guidelines to reduce disparities.

″Congress did not intend juvenile delinquents ordinarily to be subject to penalties harsher than those received by adults convicted of the same offense,″ the appeals court said.

The government’s interpretation would be particularly unfair to juveniles, the appeals court said, because it could result in longer terms without the possibility of parole. The sentencing guidelines are intended to promote uniformity by eliminating parole.

The case is U.S. vs. RLC, 90-1577.

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