Life without Parole for Juvenile; Need for Miller v. Alabama Analysis where LWOP Possible

Commonwealth v. Machicote, 172 A.3d 595 (Pa. Super. 2017), allocatur granted, May 22, 2018, appeal docket 14 WAP 2018

In Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012) the United States Supreme Court held that a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP) is unconstitutional when imposed upon a defendant convicted of murder who was under 18 at the time of the crime. In Commonwealth v. Batts, 66 A.3d 286 (2013) (“Batts I”), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the effect of the holding in Miller on incarcerated Pennsylvanians serving mandatory LWOP sentences for homicides committed while those persons were juveniles. Batts I held that Miller requires that there be judicial consideration of the appropriate age-related factors set forth in that decision prior to the imposition of a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on a juvenile. Later, in Commonwealth v. Batts, 163 A.3d 410, 447 (2017) (Batts II ) the Court held that a faithful application of the holding in Miller requires the creation of a presumption against sentencing a juvenile offender to life in prison without the possibility of parole and that the Commonwealth has the burden of rebutting the presumption.

The question presented in this appeal by allowance is whether, in a case in which LWOP is an available sentence, the sentencing court must review on the record the age-related factors specified in Miller even if the defendant is not actually sentenced to LWOP. Anthony Machicote was 17 years old when he tied and gagged a security guard in order to escape from a juvenile detention facility, resulting in the guard’s death from suffocation.  He pled guilty to second degree murder in 2005 and was sentenced to life imprisonment.  Thereafter he filed several PCRA petitions which resulted in appeals and resentencings, eventually triggering the need for the court to engage in the Miller/Batts age-related considerations.  In 2016, following a remand from an appeal of a PCRA determination, the PCRA court had the option of imposing a sentence of LWOP on Machicote, but sentenced him instead to term of imprisonment not less than 30 years nor more than life. In determining the sentence, the PCRA court took into consideration a previous sentencing transcript and Machicote’s pre-sentence investigation report, but did not explicitly review on the record the age-related factors specified in Miller.  The Superior Court found that the procedure used was not an abuse of discretion, and that because the PCRA court “had the benefit of a pre-sentence investigation report” it is “presumed to have considered all relevant information.” 172 A. 3d at 603.  Further, the Superior Court stated that “because the PCRA court determined that an LWOP sentence was inappropriate for Appellant, this issue is moot as application of Miller’s factors is immaterial.”  172 A. 3d at 602 n. 3.

The Supreme Court has granted allocatur on this precise issue.  As stated by Petitioner, the issue is:

Whether, in order to comply with Miller and its progeny, a court sentencing a juvenile defendant for a crime for which life without parole is an available sentence must review and consider on the record the Miller factors adopted by this Court in Batts I, regardless whether the defendant is ultimately sentenced to life without parole.

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.