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[U] Commonwealth v. Butler-Hayes

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

March 12, 2014



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered July 13, 2011, In the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Criminal Division, at No. CP-46-CR-0002398-2010.




Appellant, Laveel Butler-Hayes, appeals from the judgment of sentence entered on July 13, 2011, in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. We affirm.

The record reveals that on March 11, 2010, Appellant and an accomplice robbed Clifford Smith ("Smith") at gunpoint. (N.T., 3/1/11, at 82-92). During the robbery, Sanford Michael Jackson ("Jackson"), Smith's uncle, attempted to intervene, and Appellant shot and killed him. Id.

The trial court set forth the procedural history as follows:
On March 3, 2011, after a four-day trial, the jury found [Appellant] guilty of … second degree murder, robbery, criminal conspiracy, and VUFA. At sentencing on July 13, 2011, the Court reviewed the previously requested Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI), and the testimony produced by both [Appellant] and the Commonwealth. Thereafter, the undersigned sentenced [Appellant] to the mandatory term of lifetime imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, for his conviction of second degree murder. The Court also imposed concurrent sentences on the remaining charges. On July 19, 2011, [Appellant] filed a timely Post-Sentence Motion. After argument, the Court denied [Appellant's] Motion by Order dated February 23, 2012. Thereafter, on March 23, 2012, [Appellant] filed a timely Notice of Appeal challenging the imposition of his sentence. [Appellant] filed a timely Pa. R.A.P. 1925(b) Statement, and, by Order dated July 31, 2012, the undersigned granted [Appellant] leave to supplement his 1925(b) Statement to include a claim under the recently decided Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012).

Trial Court Opinion, 11/15/12, at 6-7 (internal citations and footnotes omitted).[1]

On appeal, Appellant raises only one issue:
Does the imposition of a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole for second degree murder violate Amendment VIII of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution?

Appellant's Brief at 4. Specifically, Appellant challenges the constitutionality of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 1102(b). His entire argument focuses on the fact that, because the trial court had no discretion but to impose a sentence of life without parole for second-degree murder, the sentence was imposed without due process and violated Pennsylvania's individualized sentencing scheme. Appellant's Brief at 10-15.

At the outset, we note that the constitutionality of a statute is a pure question of law; our standard of review is de novo and our scope of review is plenary. Commonwealth v. Omar, 602 Pa. 595, 981 A.2d 179, 185 (2009). Moreover:

when addressing the constitutionality of a statute, we are guided by the following standards:
It is axiomatic that: any party challenging the constitutionality of a statute must meet a heavy burden, for we presume legislation to be constitutional absent a demonstration that the statute clearly, palpably, and plainly violates the Constitution. The presumption that legislative enactments are constitutional is strong. All doubts are to be resolved in favor of finding that the legislative enactment passes constitutional muster. Moreover, statutes are to be construed whenever possible to uphold their constitutionality.

Commonwealth v. Waddell, 61 A.3d 198, 202 (Pa.Super. 2012) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

The sentencing provision Appellant purports to challenge concerning murder of the second degree provides as follows:

Second degree.--Except as provided under section 1102.1, a person who has been convicted of murder of the second degree, of second degree murder of an unborn child or of second degree murder of a law enforcement officer shall be sentenced to a term of life imprisonment.

18 Pa.C.S.A. 1102(b). As noted above, Appellant claims that because section 1102(b) removes judicial discretion in sentencing and provides only a flat "cookie cutter" sentence of life in prison, it violates due process. Appellant's Brief at 4, 11.

Upon review, we are constrained to conclude that Appellant is entitled to no relief as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has already addressed this issue and concluded it was without merit. The Supreme Court held that a challenge to 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 1102(b), because it removes judicial discretion due to the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment in all cases of second-degree murder, was meritless. Commonwealth v. Cornish, 370 A.2d 291, 293 (Pa. 1977). The Supreme Court continued: "[u]nder the present statutory scheme, the mandatory sentence is imposed only in cases of murder of the second degree, or felony murder. It can hardly be said that the circumstances wherein a murder is committed during the commission of a felony vary to such an extent that the legislative determination to mandate one penalty is unreasonable." Id. at 293 n.4. It is well settled that we are without the authority to alter the decisional law of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Commonwealth v. Hall, 554 A.2d 919, 925 (Pa.Super. 1989).

Furthermore, and as noted above, the United States Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012) affords Appellant no relief as that decision applies only to juvenile offenders. In the case at bar, Appellant was eighteen years old at the time of the murder, thus no longer a juvenile, and the Supreme Court's decision in Miller is inapplicable. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of sentence.

Judgment of sentence affirmed.

Judgment Entered.

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