Prisoner’s 152-Month Sentence Upheld Despite Claims That He Had an Underdeveloped Brain Due to Traumatic Childhood

Above: Washington State Penitentiary — Image Source: New York Times

After defendant Jaarso Ahmed Abdi’s petition for post-conviction relief was denied in July 2017, he filed a personal restraint petition challenging his 152-month sentence on the grounds that his counsel was ineffective by failing to present mitigating evidence related to Abdi’s youth and brain development during his initial sentencing.

In March 2015, Abdi, aged 23, was convicted of attempted first degree robbery and first degree unlawful possession of a firearm in Washington State and was sentenced to 152 months in prison. In December 2019, Abdi filed a personal restraint petition for his sentence, contending that his counsel failed to present mitigating evidence related to his youth and brain development. Abdi claimed that he would have received a lesser sentence had his counsel presented this mitigating evidence.

Abdi cited scientific evidence stating that the brain continues to develop into one’s mid-20s, which he argued was relevant to his case due to the fact that he was 23 years old at the time he committed his crimes. Additionally, Abdi argued that “his violent and traumatic experiences as an ethnic minority and refugee” should have also been presented as additional mitigating evidence because he claims that they hindered his brain development. Abdi contends that the “development of his brain architecture was disrupted by his migration to new countries and his childhood was filled with fear, violence, poverty, and hunger.”

The appeals court, however, noted that the sentencing court was aware of his age and his background as well as “the science underlying concerns with youthfulness and brain maturity” at the time of his sentencing. The trial court noted at the time of sentencing, “I know that young men do stupid things and they grow up, and fortunately, they grow out of them. And their brains are immature at this age. . . and I’m a true believer in second changes and sometimes even third chances.” However, the court referenced Abdi’s previous criminal history — which included “seven adult felonies and two juvenile matters” — and concluded that “Abdi had already been given multiple chances.” On September 21, 2020, the Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1 denied Abdi’s petition, and his 152-month sentence was upheld.

Citation: In the MATTER OF the Personal Restraint of Jaarso Ahmed Abdi, 14 Wash.App.2d 1035 (2020)

Key words: personal restraint petition, emerging adult, brain development, adolescent brain, Washington

This post is the 19th post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

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