ChesterNewMatterWinter2017 - 17

CCBA Feature
though as luck would have it, Chester County has a fairly
low estimated number of committed juveniles on
LWOP sentences.
In Commonwealth v. Batts (Batts II), 45 MAP 2016, the
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania took under consideration
the case of Qu'eed Batts, a boy who, at 14, followed the
orders of an older gang member and shot a 16-year old
boy in the head, and wounded an 18-year old. This crime
occurred in 2006, in Easton, Pennsylvania. The Justices
delved deep into the facts of the case and the facts of
Batts' childhood, including his being born to a 13-year old
mother, the fact that he was a victim of abuse and that he
was shuffled through foster homes waiting for his juvenile
mother to become old enough to try to raise him. The
Justices further emphasized that, despite being sent back
for resentencing in Batts, I the trial court did not truly
look at Batts' capability of rehabilitation, and instead was
focusing on the crime itself.
"Procedural safeguards are required to ensure that life
without parole sentences are meted out only to 'the rarest
of juvenile offenders' whose crimes reflect 'permanent
incorrigibility,' 'irreparable corruption' and 'irretrievable
depravity'," Justice Donohue wrote. "We recognize a
presumption against the imposition of a sentence of
life without parole for a juvenile offender." Further, the
Justices stated that the Commonwealth, when seeking
a sentence of LWOP for a juvenile, is bound to prove
beyond a reasonable doubt that the child is incapable of
rehabilitation. Again, the focus is on the child. Further,
the Justices mused that although there is no requirement
that the Commonwealth have an expert speak to the
child's capability for rehabilitation, the Justices did
not see how the Commonwealth would meet their
burden without an expert who opines that the child is
permanently and irreversibly incapable of rehabilitation.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court also offered guidance
for all those prosecutors in Pennsylvania who are now
facing the problem of resentencing the over 500 formerlyjuveniles they put in prison on LWOP sentences. Instead,
the justices have told county courts to "be guided by"
minimum prison sentences of 25 years to life for youths
who commit first-degree murder when they are younger
than 15, and who committed their crime after 2012 (when
the legislature re-wrote the penalty statute). A 35-year-tolife prison sentence should be the guideline for those who
are convicted and who committed the crime between the
ages of 15 and 18.
Justice Max Baer wrote in a separate opinion that the
court's decision ensures that "nearly all juvenile offenders
will be deemed to have the potential for rehabilitation."
And this is likely true, as the court will have to hear from
an expert who has the opinion that the child can never
change, will have to account for a child's capacity for
change over very long time periods, and must find that
life is indicated based on the child beyond a reasonable
doubt. "Indeed, I believe it will be a rare case where the
commonwealth will be able to overcome the presumption
and meet the burden of proving the impossibility of
rehabilitation beyond a reasonable doubt, a high standard
which I wholeheartedly agree is required," Baer wrote.
Close by, in Philadelphia, almost two hundred former
juveniles await resentencing, and perhaps their defense
counsel can feel a little more secure in those
resentencing hearings.

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