Commonwealth v. Lee

Juvenile Law Center, along with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the Atlantic Center for Capital Punishment, and the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project, filed an amicus brief in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in support of Avis Lee who was sentenced at 18 years old to life without the possibility of parole. Ms. Lee was tried for participation in an attempted robbery which resulted in a shooting death committed by one of her co-defendants.

Our brief argued the imposition of life without parole sentences on young adults is unconstitutional because, as emerging research shows, the brain functions relevant to the characteristics of youth are still developing in young adults.

An en banc panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the dismissal of Ms. Lee’s Petition for Post-Conviction Relief. “We recognize the vast expert research on this issue. If this matter were one of first impression and on direct appeal, we might expound differently. . . . Until the United States Supreme Court or the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recognizes a new constitutional right in a non-juvenile offender, we are bound by precedent.” The court further stated in its opinion, “[w]e would urge our Supreme Court to review this issue in light of the research available even since Batts II was decided in 2017.”