Sunday, July 29, 2012

Confusion reigns in wake of Miller v. Alabama

York County, Pennsylvania has nine men and one teen -- 17-year-old Jordan Wallick -- serving life without parole sentences for murders they committed when they were under the age of 18, reported the York Daily Record.

In a 5-4 decision issued on June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole for juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment's ban against "cruel and unusual punishment."

This week, York County defense attorney Dawn Cutaia asked Judge Michael Bortner to vacate the now "illegal" life without parole sentence of Wallick and schedule a re-sentencing hearing.

Wallick, who was 15 when he killed a man and was convicted of second-degree murder. In May, Bortner sentenced him to the only available penalty--mandatory life in prison without parole.

Cutaia asked that Wallick be re-sentenced to the next available "legal" penalty, which is 20 to 40 years in prison. Pennsylvania does not have a sentence of life with the possibility of parole.

Senior prosecutor Lishani Sunday agreed that Wallick's life without parole sentence, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, was both unconstitutional and illegal.

However, she said neither the U.S. Supreme Court, the Pennsylvania appellate courts nor the state legislature has provided the district attorney offices with any guidance on what sentence former juvenile lifers should receive, reported the Daily Record.

Therefore the commonwealth remains opposed to any other sentence for Wallick than life without parole.

Complicating matters are two other juvenile lifer cases--one before the state Supreme Court and one ruled on last week by the state Superior Court.

Both cases had been tabled as the Pennsylvania courts waited on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.

The state Supreme Court now has asked the prosecution and defense in the Commonwealth vs. Batts to file supplemental recommending "the appropriate remedy" and "what relief, if any" the court should consider as available to juvenile lifers.

The Superior Court merely vacated the life without parole sentence in the Commonwealth vs. Knox and remanded it to the trial court "for the limited purpose of re-sentencing."

"It's a mess," Sunday told the Daily Record.

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