Commonwealth v. Davis

In 1981, Scott Davis received a mandatory sentence of life without parole for a crime he committed at the age of 15. Following the United States Supreme Court decisions in Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana, Mr. Davis was resentenced 40 years to life and ordered to pay the costs of prosecution. Mr. Davis appealed his case to the Pennsylvania Superior Court which held in a memorandum opinion that Mr. Davis was not liable for the costs associated with his resentencing because the relevant statute in Pennsylvania, 16 P.S. § 1403, only applies to costs of trial and conviction, not sentencing. The ruling addressed “a question of substance not previously determined by the Superior Court or the Supreme Court.”

Juvenile Law Center joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and other advocates on an amicus brief filed in the Pennsylvania Superior Court on behalf of Mr. Davis. The brief argued for publication of the opinion, to prevent unnecessary re-litigation in the future. Additionally, it argued that the issue was of substantial public importance, given the number of “juvenile lifers” being resentenced and the issues related to being released after extended periods of incarceration.

The court denied our Motion for Leave to File an Amicus Brief as moot, but granted the application for publication of the opinion.

The Commonwealth filed a consolidated appeal challenging the Superior Courts’ holdings in favor of Mr. Davis and Mr. Lehman, a similarly situated individual.

Juvenile Law Center and the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed an amicus brief with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in support of Mr. Davis and Mr. Lehman, arguing that criminal justice debt punishes those who exercise their constitutional right to be resentenced after receiving illegal life without parole sentences. Our brief highlighted that individuals who receive life without parole sentences as youth are particularly unable to pay costs associated with resentencing because they  enter prison with no employment history or financial resources and  prison offers them little opportunity to gain the education, skills, or wages necessary to pay justice system costs. Saddling such individuals with criminal justice debt undermines their opportunity for successful reentry.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the Superior Court, holding that individuals cannot be held liable for the costs associated with their resentencing when “the original proceedings took place pursuant to unconstitutional legislation.”