A federal appeals court today upheld local MS-13 enforcer Edwin "Sangriento" Gonzalez's sentence of life without parole for helping to murder two teens in East Boston for the sin of belonging to a rival gang by stabbing them dozens of times.
The US Court of Appeals for the First District in Boston rejected the assertion by Gonzalez's attorney that the sentence is cruel and unusual because Gonzalez was just 20 at the time of the murders of Wilson Martinez, 15, in September, 2015, and Cristofer Perez de la Cruz, 16, in January, 2016.
The Supreme Court has ruled that people convicted of murders when they are 17 or younger have a right to a separate hearing on whether they should be sent away without parole; the appeals court said it was not about to try to raise that age to 20.
The appeals court said that, to start, the Supreme Court rulings only applied to cases where life without parole is mandatory, not discretionary, as in the case of Gonazlez - who won the gang nickname "Sangriento," or "Bloody" after the two murders, in which he led the two to their slaughters by convincing them they were about to meet girls, instead of MS-13 members armed with knives, rocks and guns.
But in any case, the court rejected the Gonzalez argument to revise the age upward to 21 because of scientific research on the immaturity of the adolescent and young-adult brain, that a 20-year-old just doesn't have the properly wired brain to distinguish between what is right and partaking in stabbings so brutal that one piece of evidence was a knife point nicked off when it hit one of the victim's bones.
The Court drew the line at eighteen not because that age marked the apotheosis of full-scale physiological development but, rather, because it represented "the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood."
For example, the court said, 18-year-olds can vote. And the appellate judges continued that Gonzalez's lawyer failed to show that the science of maturing brains had "seismically" changed since the Supreme Court rulings in 2005 and 2017.
The lack of evidence suggesting a breakthrough confirms what is likely an inconvenient truth from the defendant's standpoint: even though he can point to recent scholarship about the immaturity of the eighteen to twenty-year-old brain, he has failed to identify the kind of scientific breakthrough that itself might compel an extension of Miller, given the more holistic analysis that the Eighth Amendment demands.
The court also rejected the argument that the sentence should be overturned because the jury in the case actually found Gonzalez guilty of second-degree, rather than first-degree murder, and that it was the judge in the case who concluded that Gonzalez met the criteria for being imprisoned until his own death. Now 25, he is currently an inmate at a federal prison in Atwater, CA.
The court said that is something a judge in federal court is allowed to do.
A sentencing court, faced with the question of whether a murder should be deemed relevant conduct in a particular case, may make that determination based upon a preponderance of the evidence. ...
In the case at hand, the district court made the requisite findings, articulated its rationale, determined that the defendant had committed two murders that comprised relevant conduct, and correctly calculated the resultant base offense level.
Federal judges use a formula, based on a variety of considerations, including the severity of the crimes at issue and past convictions, to help determine a sentence.