Juvenile Law Center, in collaboration with the Defender Association of Philadelphia and faculty members at Temple University Beasley School of Law, Boston University School of Law, and the University of San Francisco School of Law, filed an amicus brief on behalf of Qu’eed Batts, who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for a homicide he committed at the age of 14. In Pennsylvania, LWOP is a mandatory sentence for anyone convicted of first or second degree murder.
The brief argued that the life without parole sentence violates the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions as well as international law. In Graham v. Florida, the United States Supreme Court held that a sentence of life without parole imposed on a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide offense was unconstitutional, grounding its decision in developmental and scientific research demonstrating that juveniles possess a greater capacity for rehabilitation, change, and growth than adults, and reasoning that the sentence therefore served no legitimate penological purpose when applied to juveniles. Juvenile Law Center’s brief argued that Graham applied in this case as well, since the reasoning about the differences between juveniles and adults apply regardless of the type of crime at issue.
The brief also argued that the sentence is not in conformity with national and international sentencing trends, as only three other states mandate LWOP sentences for juveniles under the age of fourteen convicted of homicide and the United States is alone in the world in imposing life without parole sentences on juveniles.
Juvenile Law Center argued the case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court December 1, 2010.
On December 6, 2011, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered a hold placed on the case pending disposition by the U.S. Supreme Court of Miller v. Alabama. Upon review of the Miller decision, which banned mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles, the Court found that supplemental briefing was warranted to resolve the issues upon which it granted allowance of appeal. Accordingly, Juvenile Law Center and the other parties were ordered to submit supplemental briefing on the following issues:
The brief argued that, based on Miller, Pennsylvania's statutory scheme of sentencing any juvenile convicted of first or second degree murder to life without parole is now unconstitutional, and that Mr. Batts' sentence must be vacated and a new constitutional sentence imposed. The brief argued that the only constitutional statutory sentence available is the sentence for lesser included offenses, and that the Court should hold that the appropriate remedy for juveniles convicted of first degree murder is to impose the current statutory sentence for the lesser included offense of third degree murder.
Deputy Director Marsha Levick argued before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of Mr. Batts on September 12, 2012. View a video of her argument here (scroll to 31:00).
On March 26, 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that Mr. Batts was entitled to a resentencing hearing. At that resentencing, Mr. Batts can receive a sentence of life with parole or life without parole. The Court gave the trial court the discretion to determine Mr. Batts' minimum sentence (or parole eligibility), emphasizing that trial courts must consider "appropriate-age related factors." The Court relied in part on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Miller.
Following remand, on May 2, 2014, the Northampton County Court of Common Please sentenced Mr. Batts to life without the possibility of parole for a second time. On June 10, 2014, Mr. Batts appealed his resentencing to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
On December 26, 2014, Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief supporting Mr. Batts’ appeal. Our brief argued that resentencing Mr. Batts to life without parole was a violation of Miller. We argued that Miller adopts a presumption against imposing juvenile life without parole sentences and a presumption of immaturity for juvenile offenders. Because the Pennsylvania courts have not provided guidelines to ensure that juvenile life without parole are imposed only upon the rare juvenile offender who could be classified as irreparably corrupt, our brief argued that the imposition of life without parole was unconstitutionally arbitrary. Finally, our brief argued that evidence of mitigating circumstances in Mr. Batts’ case demonstrated that Mr. Batts’ life without parole sentence was unconstitutionally disproportionate and violated Miller.
"Easton teen killer's fate to be decided by Northampton County Judge Koury," Riley Yates, Allentown Morning Call, 4/2/13
"Supreme Court: Juvenile killer to get new sentencing," Riley Yates, Allentown Morning Call, 3/26/13
"14-year-old convicted of Easton murder should only face 40 years in prison, attorneys argue," Tom Shortell, The Express-Times, 7/27/12
"Easton teen's life sentence for gang killing to be argued," JD Malone, Allentown Morning Call, 7/10/12
"Northampton County prosecutors seeking life sentence for Qu'eed Batts, despite high court ruling," Andrew George, The Express-Times, 7/10/12