Washington Court of Appeals Reverses 19-Year Sentence for Defendant Who Committed Offenses at Age 20
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
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. Mallis is a very dangerous individual, just because he completely lacks that notion of any sort of decision making process.”
At sentencing, Mallis’ counsel did not bring up Mallis’ youth, though Mallis himself referred to his crimes as “[c]hildish acts.” Though Mallis was not seeking a sentence below the standard range, he was seeking the lowest possible sentence within the range, 189 months.
Mallis appealed, asserting that his trial counsel was ineffective because they did not argue that his youth at the time of the offense should be considered as a mitigating factor during sentencing.
Specifically, he contended that counsel should have cited State v. O’Dell, in which the Washington Supreme Court held that youth can justify a sentence below the standard range. In that decision, the Washington Supreme Court “emphasized the psychological and neurological studies illustrating the fundamental differences between adolescent and mature brains in the areas of risk and consequence assessment, impulse control, tendency toward antisocial behaviors, and susceptibility to peer pressure.”
The appeals court found that trial counsel “failed to cite recent, relevant case law wherein the Supreme Court held that a defendant’s young age can support a lower sentence even where the defendant was over 18 when they committed the crime… even when his client emphasized his own childishness and even when the trial court’s remarks suggested that the court relied on youthful impulsiveness as a reason for a higher sentence. This constituted deficient performance.”
Further, the appeals court held that “[h]ad Mallis’s trial counsel brought O’Dell to the sentencing court’s attention, there is a reasonable probability that the trial court would have engaged in a meaningful consideration of Mallis’s youthfulness and imposed a different sentence.” Accordingly, the court reversed Mallis’ sentence and remanded for resentencing.
Citation: State v. Mallis, 2020 WL 7624769
Keywords: Miller v. Alabama, State v. O’Dell, young adult, adolescent brain, impulsivity, Washington
This post is the 65th 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.