Commonwealth v. Felder
Michael Felder was initially sentenced to life without parole for a first degree murder committed when he was 17. Following the Miller and Batts I decisions, Mr. Felder’s sentence was vacated and he was resentenced to a term of 50 years to life.
Juvenile Law Center, in collaboration with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, filed an appeal in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of Mr. Felder. Our brief argued that Mr. Felder’s sentence is the equivalent of a life without parole sentence, the court failed to comply with the procedural protections mandated by Montgomery and Batts II, and that an “abuse of discretion” standard is insufficient to ensure that sentencers comply with Montgomery. We further argue that in sentencing Mr. Felder to die in prison, the court provided less procedural safeguards than required for an adult facing capital punishment and that Mr. Felder should be resentenced to the only constitutionally firm sentence available at the time of Mr. Felder’s crime which was the punishment for third degree murder.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania upheld Mr. Felder’s sentence, holding that the 50 years to life sentence was not a de facto life sentence, that the sentence was the result of an individualized and discretionary sentencing hearing, and that the sentencing court is not limited to only granting juveniles the punishment for third degree murder.
Juvenile Law Center, in collaboration with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, filed a petition for allowance of appeal on behalf of Mr. Felder in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The petition urges the court to grant review to determine whether a sentence of 50 years to life imposed upon a juvenile constitutes a de facto life sentence and thus requires the sentencing court provide the same procedural protections as required for imposing sentences of life without parole on juveniles. The court granted the petition for allowance of appeal.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed Mr. Felder’s sentence, holding that, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning in Jones v. Mississippi, “[s]o long as the sentence imposed is discretionary and takes into account the offender’s youth, even if it amounts to a de facto life sentence, Miller is not violated.”
Juvenile Law Center and the Defender Association of Philadelphia filed an Application for Reargument in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The application argued that because a life without parole sentence imposed on a youth whose crime reflects transient immaturity remains unconstitutionally disproportionate under Jones v. Mississippi, the court must determine whether Mr. Felder’s sentence is an unconstitutional de facto life sentence.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied Mr. Felder’s Application for Reargument.