Pennsylvania courts will soon determine how to respond to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling that it is unconstitutional for teens that kill to serve life sentences without the possibility of parole. Pennsylvania’ Supreme Court will hear arguments on September 12 in two cases that will likely determine how the court will resolve the plight of hundreds of other people who committed crimes as teenagers who are now serving out life sentences.
PA Has Nation’s Highest Number of Cases Involving Teens Who Kill Serving Life
Sadly, Pennsylvania has the nation’s highest number of cases involving teens that kill that have been sentenced to life without possibility of parole.
The two cases that will be heard before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court involve Ian Cunningham, who is serving a life sentence after being convicted of second-degree murder in Philadelphia. The second case involves Qu-Eed Batts, who was convicted of first-degree murder in Northampton County.
In Cunningham’s case, issues to be addressed include those sentenced to life who have exhausted all direct appeals. In Batt’s case, the justices have directed attorneys to address the appropriate remedy for teens who have been sentenced to life without parole.
There are 373 “lifers,” who were under 18 years of age when they were sentenced, says the Pennsylvania State Department of Corrections. Others estimate the number closer to 500. The Sentencing Project, a Washington, DC advocacy group says that our state has the most juveniles serving out life sentences of any state in the nation, at about 2,500.
In the two cases in question, Cunningham shot his victim during robbery in 1999. Batts, as part of gang initiation, allegedly killed one man and wounded another in 2006. He was just 14 years old.
Currently, it appears that 46 Pennsylvania prisoners were sentenced as juveniles before 1960, and one sentence stretches back to 1953.
A reporter who interviewed Batts’ lawyer, Philip Lauer, said, “It’s a heart-rending situation when you talk to some of these guys … Some of them have been in there since their really early teens, like barely into their teens.”