Jim Porter: Life sans parole cruel and unusual punishment?
May 15, 2014
Andrew Lawrence Moffett with his buddy Alexander Hamilton drove a stolen Toyota Camry to rob a Raley's supermarket in Pittsburg, Calif.No, not that Alexander Hamilton.
Moffett and Hamilton entered the Raley's with semi-automatic handguns. Moffett put his gun to the head of employee Rima Bosso, who became so distraught she was unable to get her register drawer open.
A gun to her head didn't help. Bosso suffered terribly from the trauma and since the incident has seldom left her house.
Moffett and Hamilton sped off in their stolen Camry but crashed into the back of a parked pickup truck a few blocks away. Losers top to bottom.
They headed off on foot, but not before Moffett clumsily dropped his gun. He recovered the gun and the two robbers were on the run.
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A neighbor chased them until Moffett turned and said, "Stop or I'll cap you, mother —–." The pursuer wisely let them escape.
Shortly after the robbery, police officers responded to the Raleys while others drove the likely escape routes.
Pittsburg officers Lasater and Florance drove, then walked down a trail when Lasater saw something in the bushes, he shouted, "Show me your hands." Hamilton, with Moffett right next to him, shot Lasater dead.
Hamilton surrendered. Moffett was apprehended an hour later after he ditched his gun in a flower pot. The evidence against both defendants was overwhelming.
Hamilton and Moffett were tried jointly. Both were convicted. Hamilton received the death penalty. Moffett was convicted of first degree murder with special circumstances under what is called the Felony-Murder Rule: Hamilton's shooting was attributed to Moffett based on their criminal enterprise.
Moffett, who was just shy of 18 at the time of the robbery and shooting, had an extensive criminal record. He was sentenced to life without possibility of parole (LWOP). He appealed claiming that as a juvenile the sentence of LWOP amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment of the federal Constitution.
After the trial court sentenced Moffett to LWOP and before his appeal hearing was heard, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the sentences of two 14-year olds who were convicted of murder and were sentenced to LWOP, ruling: "The Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.
"By making youth (and all that accompanies it) irrelevant to imposition of that harshest prison sentence, such a scheme poses too great of risk of disproportionate punishment."
Long story short, the California Court of Appeal sent the matter back to the trial court adding, "We are confident the court will give appropriate weight to the fact that Appellant (Moffett) was a non-killer convicted under the Felony-Murder Rule."
While the trial court could re-sentence Moffett to LWOP, it is likely he will receive a sentence of 25 years to life. Leaving enough time to get out and kill again.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim's practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.