Erie County Judge Shad Connelly -- in the first decision of its kind in Erie County -- ruled last week that, based on current law, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama is not retroactive, reported the Erie Times-News.
The U.S. Supreme Court said mandatory life sentences without parole are unconstitutional for defendants convicted of murder as juveniles. The court did not prohibit all life sentences with no parole for juvenile offenders but said such sentences cannot be automatic.
If it were retroactive, it would apply to cases, such as those of all the juvenile lifers in Erie and Crawford counties, that were filed before Miller.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not issued an opinion with regard to Miller's retroactivity, although Commonwealth v. Ian Cunningham, a case dealing with the issue of retroactivity was argued before the court last fall
"There is nothing in Miller which either explicitly or impliedly sets forth that it is to be applied retroactively," Connelly wrote in a four-page opinion. In addition, he wrote, "neither the Pennsylvania Supreme Court nor Pennsylvania Legislature has recognized the Miller decision as retroactive."
The ruling could affect eight other juvenile "lifer" inmates from Erie County who were convicted of committing murder as juveniles and sentenced to automatic life terms with no parole. Crawford County has four such inmates, and Pennsylvania 373 overall.
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