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Washington Court Must Consider Circumstances of Youth in Sentencing Juveniles

After the U.S. Supreme Court determined that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles was unconstitutional, the state of Washington enacted a statute requiring the re-sentencing of Washington criminal defendants who had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed while they were juveniles. RCW 10.95.035.

A defendant who was re-sentenced after the change in the law recently challenged his new sentence.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the defendant killed two people during a robbery in 1997 at the age of 17.  He was sentenced to the then-mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for each of two counts of aggravated first degree murder while armed with a deadly weapon, to be served consecutively, plus a deadly weapon enhancement of 24 months on each count.

Following a hearing in 2017, the defendant was re-sentenced to two concurrent terms of 42 years to life.  The defendant appealed and the appeals court affirmed.  The Washington Supreme Court remanded the case for reconsideration based on a recent decision.

The sentencing court must consider the mitigating circumstances of youth before imposing the standard range sentence.  During a re-sentencing hearing based on the change in law, the court “must fully explore the impact of the defendant’s juvenility on the sentence rendered.” The court must consider the defendant’s age and related factors.  The defendant’s life experiences, capacity for acting responsibly, and chances for rehabilitation must also be considered.

The defendant argued the re-sentencing court did not “meaningfully consider” his age.  He argued that the court only gave cursory consideration to the factors and did not give enough weight to the mitigating evidence.  He further argued the court had disregarded its findings regarding his chances for rehabilitation.

The appeals court found both arguments unpersuasive.  It noted the re-sentencing court had reviewed documents from the original proceedings and appeal and documents and evidence specific to the re-sentencing, including testimony, an expert report, and a mitigation investigation report.  The appeals court found the re-sentencing court considered each of the mitigating factors required by the statute.

The re-sentencing court noted the defendant was young and was not more mature than the typical person his age.  The court considered his family circumstances and found he had limited family support.  The court also noted that if the expert was correct, the defendant’s prospect for rehabilitation were “fairly strong.” The appeals court found the re-sentencing court had considered the mitigating factors and done more than just a cursory review.

The appeals court also pointed out that the defendant’s new sentence was significantly shorter than his original sentence and allowed him to become eligible for parole. The appeals court found the resentencing court had “carefully and meaningfully considered the mitigating evidence” and therefore had “absolute discretion” in weighing it and determining the new sentence.  The appeals court affirmed the new sentence.

If your child has been accused of a crime, you need an experienced Washington juvenile defense attorney fighting to protect his or her rights.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to set up a consultation.

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