Golden Gate University Law Review


Jennifer Gomez


This Comment argues that life without the possibility of parole is not an appropriate sentence for juveniles who commit felony murder because of the inherent characteristics of juveniles, such as their immaturity and inability to foresee consequences. At the age of seventeen, Riley Briones was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for his involvement in a robbery that resulted in a murder. Abused by his father throughout his childhood, Briones’ use of alcohol and drugs began early at the age of eleven. While he had aspired to attend college, Briones became a teen parent which required him to leave school to work full time. Briones’ participation in the robbery of a Subway restaurant led to his conviction on a charge of first-degree felony murder in United States v. Briones. Fifteen years after Briones was sentenced, the U.S. Supreme Court made major changes to juvenile sentencing in Miller v. Alabama and in Montgomery v. Louisiana, cases which both provided greater protections for juvenile offenders. However, despite repeated efforts by Briones to obtain resentencing and release on parole, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ultimately affirmed his life without parole sentence. Part I of this Comment explores the origins, rationales, and critiques of the felony murder rule. Central to this examination are Enmund v. Florida and Tison v. Arizona, two pivotal Supreme Court cases that have assessed whether the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for felony murder. Part I also discusses Supreme Court cases that have shaped juvenile sentencing, with a focus on the sentence of juvenile life without the possibility of parole. Part II explores the problems that have developed after Jones v. Mississippi, a U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that a sentencer is not required to make a separate factual finding that a juvenile is permanently incorrigible when sentencing the juvenile to life without the possibility of parole. Part III compares the divergent outcomes of Briones under Miller and Jones, respectively. Part IV concludes that life without parole for juveniles is a disproportionate punishment for criminal liability under the felony murder rule.