State v. Anderson

Tonelli Anderson was sentenced to a de facto life sentence of 61 years for offenses committed as a youth. 

Juvenile Law Center, joined by Community Passageways, Choose 180, Rooted Reentry, and 7 other advocacy organizations, filed an amicus brief in the Washington Supreme Court in support of Mr. Anderson. Our brief argued that racial bias infects Washington’s criminal legal system and compounds the risk that an unjust life sentence will be imposed, and that Mr. Anderson’s sentence does not serve the penological goals of retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, or rehabilitation. We further emphasized that sentencing youth to life in prison ignores their capacities to make meaningful contributions to their communities in the future.

The Washington Supreme Court denied relief, holding that while the Washington Constitution bars de facto life without parole sentences for youth whose crimes reflect youthful immaturity, impetuosity, or failure to appreciate risks or consequences, Mr. Anderson’s offenses did not reflect those characteristics. In a powerful dissent, Chief Justice Gonzalez concluded that the Washington Constitution categorically bars all de facto life sentences for youth. He emphasized that Mr. Anderson was originally sentenced at a time when “all too many Black and brown children were . . . classified as ‘juvenile superpredators’ and treated as irredeemable monsters.” Justice Yu, concurring in dissent, similarly highlighted racial disparities in sentencing, stating that the majority’s “harsh result” for Mr. Anderson, who is Black, is “irreconcilable with more lenient results obtained by former juvenile offenders who are white.”

Mr. Anderson moved for reconsideration. Juvenile Law Center joined the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality and Huy in filing an amicus memorandum in the Washington Supreme Court, arguing that the Court’s singular focus on whether the crime reflects youthful immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences conflicts with “the United States Supreme Court’s repeated requirement that sentencers consider both a young person’s capacity for change and diminished culpability—regardless of the circumstances of the crime.”

The Washington Supreme Court denied Mr. Anderson’s motion for reconsideration.



Marsha Levick, Riya Saha Shah


Tiffany Faith, Marissa Lariviere