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Criminal Law

Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010)

Also under Minors' rights

Outcome:   Favorable

Issue

The issue in this case was whether a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole, when imposed of a person who committed a series on non-homicidal crimes while still a minor, violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.

AMA interest

The AMA supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Article 37 of this convention, in turn, opposes the imposition of sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of release for offenses committed by persons below 18 years of age.

Case summary

Mr. Graham committed a series of non-homicidal crimes, the last of which he had committed while approximately one month short of his eighteenth birthday.  A Florida court sentenced Graham to life imprisonment without parole, and the case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.  The question addressed was whether his sentence was valid under the Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments.”

The Supreme Court ruled, in a split decision, that such sentences are unconstitutional, regardless of other circumstances.  Both the majority opinion and the dissent of Justice Thomas referred to the AMA amicus brief.

AMA involvement

The AMA and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court.  Although the brief did not explicitly support either party and did not urge the Court to rule one way or the other on the ultimate constitutional question, it did point out how children’s brains differ physiologically from adult brains and how such differences are likely to affect children’s personalities and ability to make considered judgments.

United States Supreme Court brief.

Miller v. Alabama; Jackson v. Hobbs, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (U.S. 2012)

Also under Minors' rights

Outcome:    Neutral

Issue

The issue in this case is whether a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole, when imposed on a person who committed a homicide at the age of 14, violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.

AMA Interest

The AMA supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Article 37 of this convention, in turn, opposes the imposition of sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of release for offenses committed by persons below 18 years of age.

Case Summary

During the course of a robbery, Evan Miller savagely beat and killed a man.  He then set a fire to try and hide the crime.  He did this when he was 14 years old.  An Alabama court sentenced Miller to life imprisonment without parole.  By statute, the trial court did not consider possibly mitigating circumstances, such as Miller’s youth.  The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.  On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court held that these criminal sentences did indeed violate the Eighth Amendment.  The Court held that Miller was entitled to a hearing on whether mitigating circumstances might mandate a lesser sentence.

AMA Involvement

The AMA and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court.  Although the brief did not explicitly support either party and did not urge the Court to rule one way or the other on the ultimate constitutional question, it did point out how the brains of 14 year old children differ physiologically from adult brains and how such differences are likely to affect their personalities and ability to make considered judgments. 

United States Supreme Court brief

Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)

Also under Minors' rights

Outcome:   Very favorable

Issue

The issue in this case was whether a death penalty sentence, when imposed on a person who committed murder while still a minor, violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

AMA interest

The AMA supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This convention, in turn, opposes the imposition of capital punishment for offenses committed by persons below 18 years of age.

Case summary

A Missouri court sentenced Mr. Simmons to death for committing a murder when he was 17 years old.  The Missouri Supreme Court commuted Simmons’ sentence, ruling that the death penalty for persons under the age of 18 violated the Eighth Amendment.  The case was then reviewed by the United States Supreme Court

By a split decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional when applied against persons who committed crimes while they were less than 18 years old.

AMA involvement

The AMA filed an amicus curiae brief, opposing the death penalty for juveniles, based on the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the United States Constitution.  The brief contended that scientific medical evidence shows that persons who commit crimes when less than 18 years of age are not sufficiently culpable, from a constitutional viewpoint, to warrant the death penalty.


United States Supreme Court brief

United States v. Dicter, 198 F.3d 1284 (11th Cir. 1999)

Outcome:   Very unfavorable

Richard Dicter, M.D., was convicted of over 200 counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance.  A federal district court ordered his state medical license forfeited, fined him, and sentenced him to prison.  On appeal, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court held that Dr. Dicter’s state medical license constituted property subject to forfeiture under federal criminal forfeiture law.

Dr. Dicter petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.  The Litigation Center joined the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) in an amicus curiae brief filed in his support.  MAG and the Litigation Center argued that the federal forfeiture of a state medical license is an unconstitutional (10th Amendment) interference with a state’s power to regulate the practice of medicine. Also, while Georgia law recognizes a property interest in a medical license, the license is not, alone, property.  The Supreme Court denied Dr. Dicter’s petition.

United States v. Moon (M.D.Tenn. 2005)

Outcome:   Unfavorable

Issue

The issue in this case was whether evidence collected by an overly broad, warrantless search of a physician's office by state and federal investigators should be suppressed.

AMA interest

The AMA supports legally proper search procedures in any investigation of a physician.

Case summary

Dr. Moon, a Tennessee oncologist, was indicted for fraudulent billing of pharmaceuticals to cancer patients enrolled in Medicare and TennCare (Tennessee's Medicaid program) from 1999 to 2002. Federal prosecutors alleged that Dr. Moon repeatedly billed Medicare and TennCare for the full dosage amounts of chemotherapy medication when only partial doses were administered.

Based on a tip from one of Dr. Moon's employees, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”) and the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (“HHS-OIG”) conducted an “administrative search” of Dr. Moon's office. In addition to their review of patient records, including records of patients not covered by either Medicare or Tenncare, the investigators interviewed patients and staff and interfered with Dr. Moon's treatment of her patients. Following the search, the government indicted Dr. Moon for allegedly violating the federal Health Care Fraud Statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1347(1) and (2). Dr. Moon lost her hospital privileges.

The trial court ruled that at least some of the evidence derived from the search could be admitted into evidence and denied the motion to suppress.

Litigation Center involvement

The Litigation Center, along with the Tennessee Medical Association, filed an amicus curiae brief to support Dr. Moon's motion to suppress the evidence that had been obtained against her as the result of a warrantless search of her office. The brief argued that the government search had not only infringed Dr. Moon's privacy rights, but it had also infringed the rights of her patients. Although Dr. Moon had signed a “boilerplate” release in order to participate in Medicare and TennCare, the amicus brief argued that the release did not support the broad search that had actually occurred and that the government could have avoided these issues if it had obtained a search warrant.

United States District Court brief.

United States v. Wood, 207 F.3d 1222 (10th Cir. 2000)

Also under Criminalization of medical judgments

Outcome:  Favorable

Issue

The issue in this case was whether a physician can be found criminally culpable for his exercise of medical judgment.

AMA interest

The AMA opposes the criminalization of health care decision making.

Case summary

Dr. Wood was tried for murder after he administered potassium chloride to a patient in extreme medical distress, who then died.  At trial, experts for both sides gave diametrically opposed opinions as to whether Dr. Wood’s action was proper and whether it caused the patient’s death.  The jury found that Dr. Wood had behaved recklessly and was guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Dr. Wood appealed to the Tenth Circuit which then reversed Dr. Wood’s conviction, holding that the trial court had prejudiced Dr. Wood through various procedural errors. The case was reversed and remanded for a new trial.

Litigation Center involvement

The Litigation Center along with the Oklahoma State Medical Association, sought leave to file an amicus brief in support of Dr. Wood’s appeal of his conviction.  The brief contended that, because there was such a marked difference of opinion among the experts, Dr. Wood could not have been found to have acted improperly beyond a reasonable doubt.  The brief also argued that Dr. Wood should not have been found criminally culpable for his exercise of medical judgment under the extreme circumstances of this case.

The Tenth Circuit, without explanation, denied the Litigation Center/OSMA request to file the amicus brief.