Commonwealth v. Foust

Michael Foust was initially sentenced to life without parole for two counts of first degree murder committed when he was 17. Mr. Foust’s sentence was then vacated after the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016). Upon re-sentencing, Mr. Foust received two consecutive 30-to-life terms which amount to a de facto life sentence.

Juvenile Law Center, in collaboration with Pamela R. Logsdon Sibley, filed a brief in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of Mr. Foust. Our brief argues that Mr. Foust’s sentence is the equivalent of a life without parole sentence, Miller and Montgomery established a presumption against juvenile life without parole, and the imposition of a de facto life sentence cannot be constitutionally imposed on a juvenile absent a finding that the juvenile is one of the rare and uncommon juveniles who is permanently incorrigible, irreparably corrupt, or irretrievable depraved. We further argued that Mr. Foust is entitled to the same procedural safeguards as an adult facing capital punishment, which he was not afforded at his hearing.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that “because the [U.S. Supreme Court] has severely limited the circumstances under which juvenile defendants may be sentenced to [life without parole], a de facto LWOP sentence is illegal in certain circumstances when imposed upon a juvenile offender.” While Foust represents the first appellate decision in Pennsylvania to recognize that virtual life sentences may also violate Miller, the court further held that “in determining whether a fixed term-of-years sentence is a de facto LWOP sentence, we must consider the sentence for each individual crime separately,” and upheld Mr. Foust’s consecutive sentences because there were multiple victims.

Juvenile Law Center filed a petition for allowance of appeal on behalf of Mr. Foust in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania urging the court to grant review to determine whether it is constitutional to stack sentences that amount to a de facto life sentence on a juvenile absent a finding of incorrigibility when it would otherwise be illegal to impose a sentence of life without parole.