July 16, 2018
Spotlighting disparities in resentencing of juve LWOP cases in Pennsylvania ... and and broader post-Miller challenges
The Philadelphia Inquirer has this effective new article headlined “Why are juvenile lifers from Philly getting radically different sentences from those in the rest of Pennsylvania?”. Here are excerpts:
While Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has attempted to create clear guidelines for that work, now that more than 300 juvenile lifers have been resentenced across 31 counties, the disparities are striking.
“It’s still very county-dependent, fact-dependent, and there are still a lot of politics involved,” said Brooke McCarthy, who has been tracking the results for the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Juvenile Law Center. “If you look at the outcomes in Allegheny County, they are night and day from what we’re seeing in Philly. That’s true in various counties: In Bucks County, one judge has been handling the sentencing, and she’s been particularly harsh. Different folks are handling the same facts differently.”
In Philadelphia, the average sentence for a juvenile lifer has been 31 years to life. In Bucks County, no one has received less than 40 years....
County by county, judges have disagreed about whether sentences on multiple homicides ought to run concurrently or be stacked consecutively.
A Lancaster County judge last year imposed consecutive 40-years-to-life sentences for Michael Lee Bourgeois, for killing his adoptive parents in 2001 with three accomplices. And, in Allegheny County, a judge imposed three consecutive 25-to-life sentences on Donald Zoller, who killed three people when he was just 14; he won’t go before the parole board unless he lives to be 89.
But in Philadelphia, it’s been a different story. Jose Hernandez, convicted of killing four family members as a teen, received 45 years to life after the district attorney tried to offer him even less time. And another juvenile lifer, Jorge Cintron Jr., was resentenced to 30 years to life for three murders; he could be released by age 47.
Judges have also differed when it comes to tacking on additional time for associated charges, such as robbery, conspiracy, or possession of a firearm....
According to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision last year, a juvenile must be found to be “permanently incorrigible” before a life sentence can be imposed.
Now, state appellate courts will have to weigh in on a slew of follow-up questions being lobbed from all across the commonwealth. What comprises a de facto life sentence: Is 50 years too long? Is it constitutional to stack consecutive sentences such that a juvenile who is not incorrigible has no hope of release? What is a juvenile anyway — do 18-year-olds count? And, what factors must judges consider in the resentencings, which are supposed to take into account the reduced culpability of an immature, impulsive youth, as well as his or her capacity for change?...
In Michigan, home to 360 teen lifers, the state has sought to reimpose life without parole in more than half of its cases. In Virginia, Renwick said, “the commonwealth has fought at every step to prevent” resentencings. And in Illinois, which is working through the resentencings of about 100 juvenile lifers, Shobha Lakshmi Mahadev, a professor at the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law, said the vast majority are being resentenced to 50 or 60 years in prison, many with no opportunity for early release.
Other states, such as Louisiana, have addressed the issue legislatively, by creating across-the-board parole eligibility — though in some jurisdictions that still means few, if any, lifers are actually being released.
“What these decisions have done is opened up this conversation and this question: How do you sentence a child or an adolescent? What our systems did before was just to treat kids as adults — and that is unconstitutional and, given what we know now, inappropriate,” Mahadev said.
July 16, 2018 at 09:48 AM | Permalink