Pro Bono Effort Prompts Ninth Circuit to Overturn Life Sentence of Juvenile Offender


Backing the arguments of an Orrick appellate team, an en banc Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel today set aside a life without parole sentence imposed on our client Riley Briones Jr. when he was 17-years-old, finding it unconstitutional. The court’s sweeping 9-2 decision ordered Briones resentenced, raising the possibility he could be released after already serving 22 years in prison.

The Orrick pro bono effort, led by associate Easha Anand and partner Mel Bostwick, persuaded the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case en banc after an earlier divided panel decision. The court determined that Briones met the standard established in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Montgomery v. Louisiana ruling, which limited life sentences for juvenile offenders.

The Ninth Circuit cited Briones’ “spotless record” over more than two decades in prison and the “grief, regret and sorrow” he has expressed about his earlier actions as a juvenile. The majority made clear that “if subsequent events effectively show that the defendant has changed or is capable of changing, LWOP is not an option.” The Orrick team argued that Briones was the kind of inmate the Supreme Court had in mind when it restricted life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders who are proven to be more capable of reform than their adult counterparts.

In addition to Mel and Easha, who argued the case, the Orrick team received important assistance from Vikki Liles, of the Law Office of Vikki Liles in Arizona, and amicus support from Keith Hilzendeger of the Federal Defenders Office in Arizona and John Mills of the Phillips Black Project.