State v. Moretti

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Anthony Allen Moretti, Hung Van Nguyen, and Fredrick Orr were sentenced to mandatory life without parole under Washington’s “Three Strikes” law, even though each of them were only young adults (19, 20, or 21 years old) during the commission of their first and in some cases second “strike.” 
 
Juvenile Law Center along with Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Washington Defender Association, and TeamChild filed an amicus brief in support of Moretti, Nguyen, and Orr in the Washington Supreme Court. Our brief argued that courts must consider emerging research on youth brain development during sentencing, and Washington’s “Three Strikes” law should incorporate the Eighth Amendment’s requirement for individualized sentencing because the characteristics of youth relied upon in Roper and its progeny are still developing in older adolescents and young adults.
 
The Washington Supreme Court held that “the Washington Constitution does not require a categorical bar on sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole for fully developed adult offenders who committed one of their prior strikes as young adults.” In a powerful concurring opinion, Justice Yu writes, “Although the current case law does not support  [the argument for a proportionality analysis that considers youth and culpability], there have been significant advancements in the scientific community to suggest that ‘emerging adults’ should be treated as a distinct developmental stage in the criminal justice system. . . . The criminal justice system is not one size fits all. . . . To assign on sentence for such a wide range of offenses is to disregard our notions of fairness and justice. . . .[J]udicial mercy should not be restricted to considerations of youthfulness or competency. There are adults who are also deserving of leniency and an individualized inquiry as to their level of culpability and capacity for rehabilitation.”