Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

Above: Pedro Cadenas. (Tri-City Herald)

On December 22, 2020, a Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the 434-month sentence of Pedro Cadenas, who had appealed on the grounds that the trial court did not consider his youth at the time of his offense.

In 2017, when Cadenas was 17 years old, he shot and killed Manual Molina when attempting to steal Molina’s car. Cadenas was charged with first-degree murder, second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, and attempted theft of a motor vehicle. At trial, he was found guilty of all three charges.

During sentencing, Cadenas’s defense counsel “discussed scientific literature that explained that teenagers did not…


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

Above: Michael Nance. (link)

On December 2, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss Michael Nance’s appeal to prevent his execution by lethal injection. Nance claimed that lethal injection would cause him excruciating pain due to his compromised veins and brain chemistry.

In 1997, at age 36, Nance was convicted of murder after he fatally shot a driver during an attempted bank robbery. He was sentenced to death in Georgia, where the only method of execution available is lethal injection. Following an appeal, Nance was resentenced to death at a new trial in…


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

Stateville Prison in Illinois, where Eastling is currently incarcerated. (The Chicago Tribune)

An Illinois appellate court affirmed the 53-year sentence of Joseph Eastling on December 11, 2020, rejecting Eastling’s claim that his sentence is an unconstitutional de facto life sentence because he was 18 years old at the time of his crime. This case is one of many challenging life sentences or de facto life sentences for young adults in Illinois, which have so far had mixed results, though several young adult defendants have been granted leave to file postconviction petitions.

In September 2000, Eastling and his co-defendant shot and killed Charles Fowler and injured Michael Caisel during an altercation at Fowler’s…


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

RJ Donovan Correctional Facility, where Ayala is currently incarcerated. (Layton Construction)

On December 17, 2020, a California state appellate court affirmed the decision to deny postconviction relief for Joel Ayala, who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for first-degree murder committed at age 18.

In 1986, when Ayala was 18 years old, he and another person attempted to carjack a truck. Ayala shot the owner of the truck once and the second person shot the truck owner twice. The truck owner died. Ayala was charged with and found guilty of first-degree murder and was sentenced to LWOP.

In 2019, Ayala petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus…


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

Darione Ross. (Public Police Records)

On December 11, 2020, an Illinois appellate court remanded Darione Ross’ case for further postconviction proceedings. Ross had appealed his 50-year prison sentence, alleging it was unconstitutional because it is a de facto life sentence for a crime he committed in 2008 at age 19.

In 2012, Ross was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Ross argued in his postconviction petition that his sentence was a de facto life sentence, which he claimed is unconstitutional because of his age at the time of the offenses. He argued that “the Illinois…


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

Above: Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals. (link)

On December 10, 2020, an Ohio appellate court denied Deshawn Maines’ appeal of his six-year sentence. Maines suffers from mental illness and contended that his background did not support the length of his sentence.

Maines was sentenced to six years after pleading guilty to a 2018 burglary. Maines’ case was initially assigned to the mental health docket, but Maines’ sanity evaluator found that although he “was suffering from a severe mental disease” that “may have added an impulsive quality to his behavior,” the mental illness did not prevent him from understanding the wrongfulness of his actions. …


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

Above: Kyle Patrick. (WFMJ)

On December 22, 2020, the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the sentence of Kyle Patrick, who had been sentenced to 33 years for murder and robbery, because of his youth at the time of the offense.

Patrick was charged with the fatal shooting of Michael Abinghanem in 2012, when Patrick was 17 years old. He was tried as an adult and pled guilty to murder and aggravated robbery. He moved to withdraw this guilty plea prior to sentencing, but the trial court denied this motion and sentenced him to life with the possibility of parole after 15 years. He appealed…


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

Above: FMC-Butner, where Sherrill is being held in the Mental Health Unit. (link)

On December 1, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a district court’s order to involuntarily medicate James Sherrill with antipsychotic medication in an attempt to render Sherrill competent to stand trial.

Sherrill was indicted in 2017 on several counts of drug distribution. He was evaluated by a forensic psychiatrist, who concluded that he “does suffer from a mental disorder that significantly impairs his present ability to understand the nature and consequences of the court proceedings against him.” Additionally, a competency hearing determined that Sherrill was not competent to stand trial. He was then sent…


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

Above: U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals Seal. (Penn State Law)

On December 23, 2020, the U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals denied the appeal of Jonathan Painter and affirmed the finding that he was guilty of sexual assault.

Painter was found guilty of the 2016 sexual assault of his co-worker after a party. He appealed, arguing in part that the victim “was not asleep, but actually experiencing a blackout.”

During trial, a criminal forensic psychologist specializing in memory testified regarding alcohol blackouts and their effect on the brain. He “clarified that an individual experiencing fragmentary blackout can talk and engage in sexual conduct but not record memory” and explained…


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

Washington Court of Appeals, Division 2. (Washington Courts)

A Washington Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the sentence of Charles Nick Mallis on December 22, 2020, finding his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that his youth at the time of his offense was a mitigating factor.

In 2017, when Mallis was 20 years old, he shot a 17-year-old victim. He pled guilty to first-degree assault with a firearm enhancement and received a high-end standard range sentence of 231 months, with the trial court reasoning that “this reaction… it’s just phenomenally juvenile. And, fortunately, phenomenally inept… it seems to me that Mr. …

Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

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