Pennsylvania’s courts and District attorneys are hell-bent on railroading 500 child lifers at resentencing
In a six-to-three decision, the nation’s high court on January 25, 2016 ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its own 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama, holding mandatory life sentences without parole for child offenders, to be unconstitutional, shall be applied retroactively.
The Miller and Montgomery rulings have placed Pennsylvania’s courts and district attorneys in between a rock and a hard place because PA’s murder statute Mandatory Life Without Parole (LWOP) imprisonment for first and second-degree murder that child offenders have been sentenced under is now unlawful to them. The statute for child offenders recently enacted by the state’s legislature after child lifers were sentenced originally, does not apply to them. The parole statute does not permit life-sentenced prisoners to receive parole release. The state’s legislature can’t pass any new law to resentence child lifers as it would violate the ex post facto law of the constitution, and the PA courts cannot craft new sentencing schemes from whole cloth.
Because there is no constitutional sentencing statute that applies to PA’s 500 child-lifers, the only approach the court can take is to apply the principles of severability of statutory provisions to the murder statute provisions that were held unlawful, and use the valid portion of the murder statute to impose the next most severe penalty set forth by the murder statute, which is the sentence for third degree murder. Therefore, the only available and constitutional sentence PA’s child-lifers can be resentenced to is the imposition of 20 to 40 years imprisonment.
The problem is PA’s judges and D.A.s are hell-bent on railroading the 500 child-lifers at resentencing hearings by knowingly imposing new unlawful sentences, such as the 35-to-life, and 25-to-life sentences given to brothers Devon and Jovan Knox by a Pittsburg County Judge; the LWOP given to Ian Seagraves by a Monroe County Judge, and the automatic life-with-parole sentences given to five child-lifers by a Chester County Judge, despite the judges’ knowing that these new sentences imposed on child lifers are unlawful.
One thing is certain, Judges and D.A.s will continue to undermine Miller and Montgomery holdings and seek to impose LWOP, life-with-parole, or the highest minimum prison sentences they can on the 500 child-lifers at resentencing, and as a result there will be even more legal appeals to come.
The families of child-lifers and civil rights organizations can put an end to this lunacy immediately, by waging a vociferous protest-pressure campaign against the courts and D.A.’s to demand that the 500 child-lifers be resentenced to 20 to 40 years imprisonment, the punishment for third degree murder.
Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall is Co-Founder and Editor of The Movement magazine, Prison Radio Correspondent, founding member of the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) and a Child Life-sentenced prisoner.
Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall #BE7826
SCI Rockview, Box-A
Bellefonte, PA 16823