Commonwealth v. Loftun, 2012 PA Super 267, December 7, 2012
On June 24, 2012, the United States Supreme Court, in two cases, one a direct appeal and another seeking collateral relief, held that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments bar the application of mandatory life sentences to any juvenile, including one convicted of murder. Miller a. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012). It prescribed no procedures to deal with resentencing juveniles whose cases were on direct appeal or seeking collateral relief. (Justice Kagan’s opinion did not address the ruling’s retroactivity to cases not currently pending in any court, but if the sentence is deemed illegal, it should be subject to collateral attack.) In response, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed, and the governor signed, 18 Pa.C.S. §1101.2, which limits sentences for crimes that previously carried a life sentence, to a mandatory minimum sentence of thirty-five years to life. The Act sets forth several considerations a court must take into account, including the juvenile’s development and psychiatric or psychological status. (The constitutionality of a minimum sentence of thirty-five years is sure to be attacked, but it is not expressly prohibited by Miller.)
Kevin Loftun was committed in 2011 of committing second degree murder in 2007, when he was a juvenile, and sentenced to life. Throughout the case, his lawyers preserved a challenge to the constitutionality of the imposition of a life sentence due to his age. Because his crime predated the effective date of the act (a date which allowed the Legislature and the Governor to abdicate any responsibility for and ownership of the problem of dealing with the scores of persons in jail for murder committed while they were juveniles, dumping that issue on the Courts they so often decry for taking lawmaking away from them), the Superior Court decreed that the act’s sentencing provisions would apply to anyone with a pending direct appeal whose crime occurred before the Act’s effective date. It declined to rule on whether the same procedures would apply to cases seeking collateral relief.
The opinion may be found here.
Image from Juvenile Justice Blog.