State v. Bassett
Lonnie Allen Bassett received a natural life sentence for an offense committed when he was 16. At the time of sentencing, the only options available to him were natural life or life with parole, and parole had been abolished in Arizona.
Juvenile Law Center, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, and Human Rights for Kids filed an amicus brief in the Arizona Supreme Court in support of Mr. Bassett, arguing that his sentence is an illegal mandatory juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentence for which he is entitled to resentencing. Our brief emphasized that Arizona is one of few states that have failed to implement the mandates of Miller and Montgomery, and that JLWOP sentences fall disproportionately on Black and Brown Arizonians, further rendering them constitutionally suspect. We further argued that even if the court finds that Bassett’s sentence was not mandatory, Miller’s principles must apply to discretionary JLWOP sentences.
The Arizona Supreme Court held that Mr. Bassett’s sentence was not mandatory and that his sentencing satisfied Miller and its progeny. The Court further overruled its prior decision in State v. Valencia, where it held that youth sentenced to natural life are entitled to evidentiary hearings that offer an opportunity to establish that their crimes did not reflect irreparable corruption. The Court held that Valencia was abrogated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Jones v. Mississippi.
Marsha Levick, Riya Saha Shah
Tiffany Faith, Marissa Lariviere