“Justices Decline ‘Zoloft Defense’ Case”

The New York Times has this article about the U.S. Supreme Court declining, without comment, to hear the case of Christopher Pittman who received a 30-year prison sentence for killing his grandparents and setting their house on fire when he was only 12 years old. The case raised several issues: whether the state properly used its discretion to try Pittman as an adult; whether the sentence was excessive; and, whether mitigating factors, such as taking the antidepressant Zoloft, should apply. I was hoping the Court would hear this case, because outside a death penalty context, it has provided little guidance on how to treat underage defendants. Here’s more from the article:

Defense lawyers asked the Supreme Court to consider whether the 30-year term violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment in light of the defendant’s age at the time of the crime. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled last June that the boy’s trial had been fair and the punishment was just.

The “Zoloft defense” was hotly debated at the time of the trial in February 2005. Shortly before the killings of Nov. 28, 2001, the 12-year-old Christopher had begun taking Zoloft that was prescribed. His parents had taken him to Chester County, S.C., to live with his grandparents, Joe and Joy Pittman, because he was having trouble at home in Florida.

[After the trial] a juror said the jury had agreed that Zoloft might have affected Christopher’s behavior, but not enough to impel him to kill. Pfizer Inc., the maker of Zoloft, called the case “tragic” but said, “Zoloft didn’t cause his problems, nor did the medication drive him to commit murder.”