A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

seal_colorBy Burt Rose

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Commonwealth v. Lawrence, 2014 WL 4212715, 2014 PA Super 182, August 27, 2014, #2684 EDA 2013, was an appeal from a Judgment of Sentence of Judge Glenn Bronson of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, CP–51–CR–0010239–2011. The case was before Judges BOWES,DONOHUE and MUNDY, who wrote the Opinion.

 

Byshere Lawrence appealed from an aggregate judgment of sentence of 45 years to life imprisonment after he was found guilty of first-degree murder and related offenses. He had agreed in the lower court that he was 15 years old at the time of the crime. The Appellant argued that 18 PaCS Section 1102.1violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause because the statute imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years to life without giving any consideration to the Appellant’s age and attendant circumstances of youth.  

 

The statute provides in relevant part:

 

  • 1102.1. Sentence of persons under the age of 18 for murder, murder of an unborn child and murder of a law enforcement officer

 

(a) First degree murder.—A person who has been convicted after June 24, 2012, of a murder of the first degree, first degree murder of an unborn child or murder of a law enforcement officer of the first degree and who was under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the offense shall be sentenced as follows:

 

(1) A person who at the time of the commission of the offense was 15 years of age or older shall be sentenced to a term of life imprisonment without parole, or a term of imprisonment, the minimum of which shall be at least 35 years to life.

 

(2) A person who at the time of the commission of the offense was under 15 years of age shall be sentenced to a term of life imprisonment without parole, or a term of imprisonment, the minimum of which shall be at least 25 years to life.

 

 

Judge Mundy noted that Section 1102.1(d)(7) requires the trial court to consider various age-related factors before the trial court may impose a sentence of life without parole:

 

 

(d) Findings.—In determining whether to impose a sentence of life without parole under subsection (a), the court shall consider and make findings on the record regarding the following:

 

(7) Age-related characteristics of the defendant, including:

 

(i) Age.

 

(ii) Mental capacity.

 

(iii) Maturity.

 

(iv) The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the defendant.

 

(v) The nature and extent of any prior delinquent or criminal history, including the success or failure of any previous attempts by the court to rehabilitate the defendant.

 

(vi) Probation or institutional reports.

 

(vii) Other relevant factors.

 

 

Because the Eighth Amendment does not categorically prohibit a state from imposing a mandatory minimum imprisonment sentence upon a juvenile convicted of first-degree murder, the Court held that section 1102.1(a)(1) neither violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment nor offends the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012).

 

 

James Lammendola, Esq. represented the Appellant.

 

 

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