Commonwealth v. Ligon

Mr. Ligon was sentenced to life without parole in the 1950s for a crime he committed when he was 15. Now, at 80 years old, he is the oldest juvenile lifer in the country having already served more than 64 years in prison.

Juvenile Law Center, in collaboration with Defender Association of Philadelphia, Cozen O’Connor, Peter Goldberger, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld LLP, filed a brief in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania on behalf of Mr. Ligon and other named defendants in support of the questions of law raised in General Court Regulation #1 of 2016 to be resolved by an en banc panel prior to re-sentencing the juvenile life without parole population. Since Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia in particular has the largest juvenile lifer population in the country, the court’s decision is likely to have a significant impact on many juvenile lifer re-sentencings.

Among other things, our brief argues that Miller and Montgomery established a presumption against juvenile life without parole and the imposition of a maximum sentence of life imprisonment is unconstitutional as applied to juveniles. We further argued that a juvenile facing the possibility of a life without parole sentence is entitled to similar protections and procedural safeguards as an adult facing capital punishment, including the right to a jury determination, expert testimony, and a reasonable doubt standard, as well as, constitutional limits on victim impact testimony and court funded mitigation.

The en banc panel held that “[i]f the Commonwealth is seeking a sentence of life without parole, it shall provide notice of such intent at the conclusion of the JLSWOP status hearing and in its Concise Statement,” but found the Defendants’ other arguments to be without merit.

Juvenile Law Center joined the Defender Association of Philadelphia in the filing of a Petition for Allowance of Appeal in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of Mr. Ligon. Our brief argued that Miller invalidates mandatory lifetime parole sentences for juveniles.