from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District of
the State of Idaho, Jefferson County. Alan C. Stephens,
judgment of the district court is affirmed.
Ferguson Durham PLLC, Boise, for Appellant. Craig H. Durham
Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for
Respondent. Kenneth K. Jorgensen argued.
NATURE OF THE CASE
T. Shanahan appeals from a district court decision denying
his motion to correct an allegedly illegal sentence imposed
in 1997. Shanahan argues that his indeterminate life
sentence, with the first thirty-five years fixed, for a
murder he committed as a juvenile in 1995 is equivalent to a
life sentence without the possibility of parole. Therefore,
he asserts that under Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S.
460 (2012) and persuasive precedent from other states, he is
entitled to a new sentencing where his youth and its
attendant characteristics may be properly considered.
Otherwise, he argues, his sentence violates the Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The district
court denied the motion on the basis that Miller is
inapplicable to Shanahan's sentence and, even if it
applied, the sentencing court heard testimony regarding his
age and mental health prior to sentencing him. For the
reasons stated below, we affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Fall of 1995, Shanahan and two friends devised a scheme to
rob a convenience store in Grant, Idaho, and use the money to
travel to Las Vegas, Nevada. Once there, they planned to join
a gang and lead a life of crime. Shanahan was fifteen years
old at that time.
before the robbery was to occur, Shanahan explained the plan
to other friends and said that, if necessary, he would shoot
the store clerk. He apparently believed that killing someone
would lend itself to his initiation into a gang. In an effort
to dissuade him from his intended course of action, some of
his friends offered him money for the trip to Las Vegas, but
next day, Shanahan and two friends obtained guns, ammunition,
gloves, and gas cans from their homes and Shanahan drove them
to the store. Before entering the store, they discussed each
person's role and Shanahan agreed that he would shoot the
clerk. After waiting for two people to leave the
store, Shanahan signaled to one of his friends to enter. His
friend's role was to distract the clerk so that she would
not activate any alarms. Shanahan then put on gloves, so as
not to leave fingerprints, and entered the store with a .22
caliber sawed-off rifle. Inside, he joined his friend who was in
the aisle next to where the clerk, Fidela Tomchak, was
stocking a beverage cooler. From there, Shanahan positioned
himself behind a rack of potato chips approximately three
feet from Mrs. Tomchak, lifted the rifle, lowered it briefly,
and then lifted it again and shot her in the back of the
head, killing her. Although he later denied that his action
was racially motivated, he referred to Mrs. Tomchak as a
"Mexican bitch" while talking with his friends the
night before he shot her. After killing her, Shanahan went to
where her body lay, looked at her, and then proceeded to scan
the store for witnesses, whom he testified he would have also
killed. Upon finding no one else in the store, Shanahan went
to the cash register, removed just over $200, stole some
cigarettes, and ran out of the store. The three boys then
drove to Las Vegas.
boys' plan fell apart shortly after they arrived when one
of them became homesick and they decided to return to Idaho
together. However, while driving back, they were stopped in
Utah and arrested. One of Shanahan's friends confessed to
the crimes, and as a result, Shanahan was charged with first
degree murder and robbery with a sentencing enhancement
because he used a firearm in the commission of the crimes.
Shanahan pled guilty to the charges in exchange for the State
dismissing the enhancement, agreeing not to seek the death
penalty,  and recommending concurrent sentences.
Shanahan then filed a motion seeking to be sentenced pursuant
to the Juvenile Corrections Act. Given the egregious nature
of his crimes, the motion was denied. At sentencing, the
trial court considered a presentence investigation report and
heard testimony from Mrs. Tomchak's husband, daughter,
step-son, and the lead investigator on the case, as well as
from Shanahan's mother, sister, and friends.
Additionally, two mental health experts testified about
Shanahan's psychological profile, which included evidence
that he was significantly immature for his age, struggled
from his parents' divorce and his father's emotional
absence, and was susceptible to peer influences.
extensive fact-finding, the district court "focused
primarily on the age of the defendant in determining the
death penalty was not an appropriate sentencing option."
In its analysis of the potential for Shanahan's
rehabilitation, the district court found that due to his
young age, there was hope that he could "eventually
become a contributing member of society." However, given
the heinous nature of the crime committed, the district court
sentenced Shanahan to concurrent unified life terms with
thirty-five years fixed for the murder and ten years fixed
for the robbery. Shanahan subsequently filed a motion to
reduce his sentence pursuant to Idaho Criminal Rule 35. The
court denied the motion.
first appeal, Shanahan argued that the district court abused
its discretion in declining to sentence him as a juvenile,
that his sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment,
and that even if his sentences were not cruel and unusual,
they were an abuse of discretion. The Court of Appeals
rejected all of Shanahan's arguments and affirmed the
district court's decision. See State v.
Shanahan, 133 Idaho 896, 994 P.2d 1059 (Ct. App. 1999).
2017, over twenty years after he was originally sentenced,
Shanahan filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence
pursuant to I.C.R. 35(a) on the basis that his sentence
violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S.
Constitution in light of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S.
460 (2012) (as made retroactive by Montgomery v.
Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718, 734 (2016)), which held that
sentencing courts must consider a juvenile's youth and
its attendant characteristics before imposing a sentence of
life in prison without the possibility of parole. The State
objected on the basis that Miller does not apply
because Shanahan was not sentenced to life without the
possibility of parole, or its functional equivalent. On
November 28, 2017, the district court issued a memorandum
decision denying Shanahan's motion. The court noted that,
to the extent that the sentencing court considered
Shanahan's age and mental health as factors weighing
against imposing the death penalty, such consideration was
improper, as Shanahan was not eligible for the death penalty
as a minor. Nonetheless, it denied the motion on the basis
that, even if Miller applies to Shanahan's
indeterminate life sentence, the sentencing court heard and
properly considered testimony regarding Shanahan's age
and mental health before sentencing him. Shanahan timely
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Criminal Rule 35(a) "is a narrow rule which allows a
trial court to correct an illegal sentence or to correct a
sentence imposed in an illegal manner" at any time.
State v. Draper, 151 Idaho 576, 601, 261 P.3d 853,
878 (2011). "Generally, whether a sentence is illegal or
whether it was imposed in an illegal manner is a question of
law, over which we exercise free review." Id.
appeal presents an issue of first impression in Idaho:
whether a juvenile offender convicted of homicide who
receives an indeterminate life sentence with a long fixed
term is entitled to a sentencing hearing at which the factors
enunciated in Miller are considered. This appeal
also presents the issue of whether such a sentence,
independent of Miller, amounts to cruel and unusual
punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Shanahan
argues that since he was sentenced in 1997, material changes
in constitutional law concerning the sentencing of juvenile
offenders render the fixed portion of his sentence
unconstitutional. He also argues that, pursuant to the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, he is entitled
to a hearing at which his youth and its attendant
characteristics are considered when sentencing him.
Miller, the Supreme Court considered whether state
sentencing schemes that mandate life in prison without the
possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders violate
the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and
unusual punishment. 567 U.S. at 489. After reflecting upon a
line of cases in which the Court determined that
"children are constitutionally different from adults for
purposes of sentencing," the Court concluded that,
"[b]ecause juveniles have diminished culpability and
greater prospects for reform . . . 'they are less
deserving of the most severe punishments.'"
Id. at 471 (quoting Graham v. Florida, 560
U.S. 48, 68 (2010)). Specifically, the Court stated:
Graham, Roper, and our individualized sentencing
decisions make clear that a judge or jury must have the
opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before
imposing the harshest possible penalty for juveniles. By
requiring that all children convicted of homicide receive
lifetime incarceration without possibility of parole,
regardless of their age and age-related characteristics and
the nature of their crimes, the mandatory-sentencing schemes
before us violate this principle of proportionality, and so
the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual
Id. at 489. Accordingly, before sentencing a
juvenile to life without the possibility of parole,
Miller requires consideration of the defendant's
"chronological age and its hallmark features- among
them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate
risks and consequences." Id. at 477. In
addition, a sentencing court must "tak[e] into account
the family and home environment that surrounds [the juvenile]
. . . from which he cannot usually extricate himself-no
matter how brutal or dysfunctional," as well as
"the circumstances of the homicide offense, including
the extent of his participation in the conduct and the way
familial and peer pressures may have affected him."
Id. The Supreme Court also lamented the fact that
mandatory life without parole sentencing schemes
"ignore that [the juvenile] might have been charged
and convicted of a lesser offense if not for incompetencies
associated with youth-for example, his inability to deal with
police officers or prosecutors (including on a plea
agreement) or his incapacity to assist his own
attorneys." Id. at 477-78.
the U.S. Supreme Court declined to impose a categorical bar
on life-without- parole sentences for juveniles convicted of
homicide. Id. at 479. Rather, Miller only
requires a sentencing court to consider the juvenile's
"youth and attendant characteristics" before
sentencing him to life without the possibility of parole.
Id. at 483. Yet, in this regard, the Court also
[G]iven all we have said . . . about children's
diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change, we
think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this
harshest possible penalty will be uncommon. That is
especially so because of the great difficulty we noted in
Roper and Graham of distinguishing at this
early age between "the juvenile offender whose crime
reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity, and the rare
juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable
corruption." Roper, 543 U.S. at 573;
Graham, 560 U.S. at 68. Although we do not foreclose
a sentencer's ability to make that judgment in homicide
cases, we require it to take into account how children are
different, and how those differences counsel against
irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.
Id. at 479-80.
also clarified that if a juvenile's crime reflects
unfortunate yet transient immaturity," '[a] State is
not required to guarantee eventual freedom,' but must
provide 'some meaningful opportunity to obtain release
based on demonstrated maturity and ...