Commonwealth v. Lee

In Pennsylvania, felony murder carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole (LWOP) and can be charged any time someone dies in the course of a felony offense, even if the participant did not kill or intend to kill. Derek Lee challenged his mandatory LWOP sentence for felony murder in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, arguing that this sentence violates the Unites States and Pennsylvania Constitutions.

Juvenile Law Center, Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project, and Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in support of Mr. Lee. Our brief highlighted research showing that the majority of Pennsylvanians serving LWOP sentences for felony murder were 25 or younger at the time of their offense, and over 42% were between the ages of 18 to 21. We argued that imposing such sentences on young adults disregards research confirming that they share many developmental traits with young people under 18. Specifically, young adults, like youth, are more likely to act impulsively and take risks, more susceptible to peer pressure, and are more capable of changing than are older adults. Our brief further argued that LWOP sentences for felony murder are unconstitutionally cruel under the Pennsylvania Constitution and disproportionately harm Black and Latinx young adults. Finally, our brief highlighted the stories of individuals sentenced to LWOP as young people who successfully returned to their communities post-Miller, demonstrating the importance of abolishing punishments that foreclose hope of rehabilitation. 



Kate Burdick, Tiara Greene, Marsha Levick, Riya Saha Shah


Tiffany Faith, Marissa Lariviere

Court Documents