Armstrong v. People

Cheryl Armstrong was sentenced to 96 years in prison under a theory of complicity to second degree murder for offenses that took place when she was 16. She will not become eligible for parole until about age 60.

Juvenile Law Center along with other amici filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of Colorado in support of Cheryl Armstrong. Our brief argued that because Ms. Armstrong’s sentence deprives her of a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release” as mandated by Graham and Miller, it is the functional equivalent of life without parole and is unconstitutional despite being labeled as a term-of-years sentence. We further argued that second degree murder under a theory of complicity is a nonhomicide crime under Graham because it does not require that a defendant kill or intend to kill.

The Supreme Court of Colorado held that Graham and Miller do not apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences, explaining in the opinion published the same day in the lead companion case, Lucero v. People, 2017 CO 49, __ P.3d __, that “[l]ife without parole is a specific sentence, distinct from sentences to terms of years.”

Although the Court has deemed the sentences distinct, for Ms. Armstrong and the other youthful offenders affected by this Court’s decision, the results are likely to be the same: a lifetime behind bars for nonhomicide offenses committed as a child.