The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday that sentences long enough that an inmate would likely not live to see his or her parole date, also known as “functional life sentences,” were unconstitutional to impose on juveniles not convicted of homicide.
In a decision divided 4-3, the justices overturned the 112-year sentence Mahoning County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court Judge R. Scott Krichbaum imposed on Brandon Moore, a now 30-year-old inmate who went on a violent crime spree in 2001, Cleveland.com reports.
Moore is not eligible for release until he is 92 years old.
Ohio Justice Paul Pfeifer wrote (pdf) that Moore’s sentence violates his constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment, since his release eligibility date is set for far beyond his life expectancy. The justices cited Graham v. Florida, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole for crimes that are not homicides.
“It does not take an entire lifetime for a juvenile offender to earn a first chance to demonstrate that he is not irredeemable,” Pfeifer wrote.
The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision is in line with other state and federal decisions regarding harsh sentences for juveniles, Cleveland.com reports.
Pfeifer notes at the beginning of the decision that the facts of Moore’s case “do not engender a sense of sympathy for the appellant.” On Aug. 21, 2001, when he was 15 years old, Moore robbed two people at gunpoint. Later that night, he pulled the gun on a woman who was unloading the trunk of her car in front of the group home where she worked and demanded she give him all her money and belongings. When a porch light came on at the group home, he forced her into the passenger seat of her car, got in the driver’s seat and drove away with her, robbing her as he drove her car.
He was then joined by Chaz Bunch, and the two of them raped the woman.
Moore and Bunch were tried as adults and found guilty. Moore was sentenced to 141 years in prison, but that was later reduced to 112 years. At the sentencing hearing, the trial court concluded that Moore could not be rehabilitated and that “it would be a waste of time and money and common sense to even give it a try.”
The judge in the case, Krichbaum, told Moore, “I want to make sure you never get out of the penitentiary, and I’m going to make sure that you never get out of the penitentiary.”
Pfeifer wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court does not outright bar life sentences for juvenile offenders not convicted of homicide, but it prohibits judges from making that decision when the juvenile is first sentenced.
Translated, that decision should only be made later by a parole board or a judge after the offender has served part of his or her sentence.
In a separate decision Thursday, the Ohio Supreme Court also ruled that mandatory transfers of juvenile criminal cases to adult courts are unconstitutional.
Read more at Cleveland.com.