HARRISBURG — An attorney for a man twice sentenced to life without parole for a crime committed when he was 14 argued before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday that the judge who reimposed the sentence failed to apply safeguards required for juvenile offenders.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 outlawed mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles, and earlier this year made that retroactive, decisions that threw into question the futures of hundreds of Pennsylvania prisoners.
The case before the state Supreme Court on Wednesday was that of Qu’eed Batts, who was 14 when he shot a man to death in Northampton County. Batts won a new sentencing but again was sentenced to life without parole.
In a court filing, attorneys for Batts argued he must be given another sentencing hearing because his most recent sentencing took place without procedural safeguards. The sentencing judge made no finding that Batts was “irreparably corrupt, permanently incorrigible, or irretrievably depraved,” as the two U.S. Supreme Court decisions require, the lawyers wrote.
“We think that his resentencing was unconstitutional for two key reasons: One, the court did not make any express finding about permanent incorrigibility,” said Marsha Levick, an attorney for Batts. Second, she said: “We think that, as in death penalty cases, certain heightened procedural protections need to be in place.”
Hugh Burns, representing the state, defended the reimposed sentence.
“Juvenile life without parole is not going to be possible in the vast majority of cases, but occasionally, we say, there’s going to be a rare case,” said Mr. Burns, chief of the appeals unit in the Philadelphia district attorney’s office. “That’s what the U.S. Supreme Court said, too, that sometimes that kind of sentence is a just and proportionate punishment.”
The attorneys for Batts asked the state Supreme Court to put forth procedural safeguards such as a presumption against juvenile life without parole and a requirement for expert testimony in such cases.
“What the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is hopefully going to do is produce some procedures and some policies that will lead to a juvenile resentencing where life without parole is extremely infrequent,” said Marc Bookman, director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, which is involved in the representation of juveniles facing resentencing.
Mr. Bookman is a lawyer for Ricky Lee Olds, who in November was resentenced in Allegheny County to 20 years to life for a murder conviction stemming from a robbery and shooting committed by another boy. Olds was 14 when he was charged. Unlike Batts, Olds is eligible for parole.
Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley