United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
the court are the motions by respondents for a stay pending
appeal of this court's orders dated March 30, 2017. In
those orders, this court conditionally granted the petitions
of Anthony Rashan Lewis and Rodney Lee Walton for writs of
habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and ordered
petitioners released from custody unless they are resentenced
on or before July 31, 2017.
who were co-defendants, were convicted of second degree
murder in the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County,
Pennsylvania and sentenced in 1997 to life imprisonment
without the possibility of parole. Both were 17 years old and
thus juveniles on May 22, 1996, the date of the murder. We
have been advised that they were taken into custody shortly
after the crime took place and have been in custody ever
Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), the
Supreme Court of the United States held that it is a
violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against
cruel and unusual punishment to impose a mandatory life
sentence without the possibility of parole on a person who
was a juvenile at the time of the commission of the
crime. The Court was particularly offended that
under this rigid sentencing scheme the sentencing court does
not take into consideration the individual history and
circumstances of the juvenile to be sentenced. The Court
explained, ”given all we have said . . . about
children's diminished culpability and heightened capacity
for change, we think appropriate occasions for sentencing
juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be
uncommon.” Id. at 2469. The Court in effect
ruled that it was unconstitutional to take a “one size
fits all” approach.
and Walton were sentenced long before the Supreme Court's
decision in Miller. In Montgomery v.
Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), the Supreme Court
applied Miller retroactively and thus made it
applicable to petitioners.
the end of 2013, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
granted motions of Lewis and Walton to file a second or
successive petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on the basis
that they had made a prima facie showing that they were
entitled to relief under Miller. In re: Anthony
Rashan Lewis, No. 13-1225 (3d Cir. Dec. 12, 2013);
In re: Rodney Lee Walton, No. 13-2652 (3d Cir. Dec.
31, 2013). The matters were stayed pending a decision by the
Supreme Court in Montgomery.
post-conviction proceedings in Lancaster County, the Common
Pleas Court on April 13, 2016 granted the petitions of Walton
and Lewis for relief and scheduled the resentencings on
November 1 and November 2, 2016, respectively. As a result,
this court granted a stay of their § 2254 petitions on
April 20, 2016 based on assurances that the resentencings
would take place on the scheduled dates in early November.
Without notification to this court, the District Attorney of
Lancaster County on May 17, 2016 obtained a stay from the
Court of Common Pleas of the November 1 and 2, 2016
resentencings pending the decision of the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Batts, 135 A.3d 176
(Pa. 2016). Argument took place in the Pennsylvania Supreme
Court in Batts on December 7, 2016. Commonwealth
v. Batts, No. 45 MAP 2016, at *9 (Pa. April 19, 2016).
No decision has yet been handed down.
case involves a 14 year old, Qu'eed Batts, who was
convicted of a first degree murder and sentenced to a
mandatory life sentence in 2007 without the possibility of
parole. After a number of trips to the Pennsylvania Superior
and Supreme Courts, he is still under the same mandatory life
sentence. See Commonwealth v. Batts, 974 A.2d 1175
(Pa. Super. Ct.2009); Commonwealth v. Batts, 66 A.3d
286 (Pa. 2013); Commonwealth v. Batts, 125
A.3d 33, 35 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2015); Commonwealth v.
Batts, 135 A.3d 176 (Pa. 2016). On April 19, 2016 the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted Batts' petition for
allowance of appeal on the following issues:
(1) In Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court
outlawed mandatory life without parole for juveniles (LWOP),
and instructed that the discretionary imposition of this
sentence should be ‘uncommon' and reserved for the
‘rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects
(i) There is currently no procedural mechanism to ensure that
juvenile LWOP will be ‘uncommon' in Pennsylvania.
Should this Court exercise its authority under the
Pennsylvania Constitution to promulgate procedural safeguards
including (a) a presumption against juvenile LWOP; (b) a
requirement for competent expert testimony; and (c) a
‘beyond a reasonable doubt' standard of proof?
(ii) The lower court reviewed Petitioner's sentence under
the customary abuse of discretion standard. Should the Court
reverse the lower court's application of this highly
deferential standard in light of Miller?
(2) In Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that the basis
for its individualized sentencing requirement was
Graham's comparison of juvenile LWOP to the death
penalty. The Petitioner received objectively less procedural
due process than an adult facing capital punishment. Should
the Court address the constitutionality of the
Petitioner's resentencing proceeding?
Commonwealth v. Batts, 135 A.3d 176 (Pa. 2016).
or not the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will
resolve all the procedural issues for the resentencings of
Lewis and Walton to the ...