ARGUED: December 7, 2016
from the Order of the Superior Court dated September 4, 2015,
reconsideration denied November 10, 2015, at No. 1764 EDA
2014 Affirming the Judgment of Sentence of the Northampton
County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, dated May 2,
2014 at No. CP-48-CR-0001215-2006
SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY,
Batts ("Batts") was convicted of a first-degree
murder that he committed when he was fourteen years old. His
case returns for the second time on discretionary review for
this Court to determine whether the sentencing court imposed
an illegal sentence when it resentenced him to life in prison
without the possibility of parole. After careful review, we
conclude, based on the findings made by the sentencing court
and the evidence upon which it relied, that the sentence is
illegal in light of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460
(2012) (holding that a mandatory sentence of life in prison
without the possibility of parole, imposed upon a juvenile
without consideration of the defendant's age and the
attendant characteristics of youth, is prohibited under the
Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution), and
Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016)
(holding that the Miller decision announced a new
substantive rule of constitutional law that applies
retroactively and clarifying the limited circumstances in
which a life-without-parole sentence is permissible for a
crime committed when the defendant was a juvenile).
to our grant of allowance of appeal, we further conclude that
to effectuate the mandate of Miller and
Montgomery, procedural safeguards are required to
ensure that life-without-parole sentences are meted out only
to "the rarest of juvenile offenders" whose crimes
reflect "permanent incorrigibility, "
"irreparable corruption" and "irretrievable
depravity, " as required by Miller and
Montgomery. Thus, as fully developed in this
Opinion, we recognize a presumption against the imposition of
a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender. To
rebut the presumption, the Commonwealth bears the burden of
proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the juvenile
offender is incapable of rehabilitation.
this Court generally does not provide an exhaustive
recitation of an offender's history prior to the
commission of the crime, as we explain in greater detail
later in this Opinion, Miller requires the
sentencing court to consider the details of a juvenile
offender's background when determining if he or she is
eligible for a sentence of life without parole. As such, we
provide a lengthy account of Batts' life preceding his
commission of the murder, based largely on the findings of
fact made by the resentencing court that are supported by the
was born prematurely on April 18, 1991 to a thirteen-year-old
mother and seventeen-year-old father. A victim of his
mother's neglect, Batts was shuffled around the foster
care system from ages five through twelve. During that
timeframe, he lived in eleven homes (as well as a homeless
shelter for youth) located in nine cities and two states, and
transferred schools eleven times (although there were
stretches of several months that, because of his transiency,
Batts did not attend school at all). He was exposed to
physical violence by foster parents, subjected to physical
violence by his peers, and on one occasion, was victimized
sexually by an older cousin. At age eleven, while in the
homeless shelter, he lost his virginity to a
thirteen-year-old female resident. He frequently got into
fights at school because children would tease him about his
circumstances. Through it all, however, Batts performed well
academically and excelled in several sports.
point during his childhood, Batts developed a relationship
with his father, who was in and out of jail during Batts'
formative years. That relationship abruptly ended, though,
when Batts was eight, as his father was sentenced to twelve
years of incarceration on federal drug charges and no
visitation was provided. Around that same time, Batts briefly
returned to the care of his mother, but he was removed again
when she struck him in front of school officials and said she
no longer wanted him.
to Batts, he struggled with feelings of abandonment and
rejection because of his familial circumstances. He desired
only to live with his mother, but she failed to comply with
the requirements for reunification established by the county
agency. It was only once Batts' paternal grandfather, who
had been his caregiver on and off over the years, expressed a
desire to adopt him that Batts' mother finally completed
the tasks required for her to regain custody of her son.
age of twelve, Batts returned to his mother's care in
Phillipsburg, New Jersey. They resided in an apartment with
his mother's boyfriend, Batts' younger sister, and
eventually, a baby brother. Batts reportedly bonded with his
mother and her boyfriend and was happy to be home. He
attended Phillipsburg Middle School in the seventh grade,
where he played football, but he began to decline
academically and was suspended several times for fighting.
became sexually active in the seventh and eighth grades,
began drinking alcohol and experimented with smoking
marijuana. It was at this time that he met Jerome Evans, an
older teen who was a member of the Bloods gang. He told Batts
that the gang was a family group that took care of each
other, which Batts found enticing. Batts began associating
with the gang when he was in middle school and sold drugs for
and his family relocated across the river to Easton,
Pennsylvania, but he continued to attend school in
Phillipsburg, where he played basketball and football. In
late December or early January of his ninth grade year, Batts
was initiated into the Bloods by getting "jumped
in" ‒ a ritual that required him to fight five
different gang members for thirty-six seconds each.
grades plummeted, prompting his mother to withdraw him from
basketball. He argued with his mother about his failure to do
his school work and began skipping school. On February 2,
2006, Batts went out in the evening and did not return home
until 2:00 a.m. When he arrived home, his mother was angry
and struck him. As a result, at the age of fourteen, Batts
packed his clothes, left for school the morning of February 3
and never returned home. He stayed at his girlfriend's
house and in the homes of other friends in both Easton and
Phillipsburg. He stopped attending school.
night of February 7, 2006, Batts was in a vehicle with
several members of the Bloods gang. Vernon Bradley, a senior
member of the Bloods to whom Batts had recently been
"assigned, " was in the car talking about his
desire to rob and kill someone. Bradley directed the driver
of the vehicle to the 700 block of Spring Garden Street in
Easton, Pennsylvania, where he saw Clarence Edwards and Corey
Hilario outside. In the preceding days, Bradley told Batts on
several occasions that he was going to kill Edwards. Batts
was aware that Bradley had previously killed three other
instructed the driver to stop the vehicle. He asked Batts and
the two other young teenagers in the back of the car who was
going to put in "work." None of the passengers
responded. The record reflects that Bradley then turned to
Batts, handed him a gun and a mask, and told him to put on a
glove and "put work in." Upon receiving that
directive, Batts exited the car, walked up to the house and
shot Clarence Edwards twice in the head, killing him, and
shot Corey Hilario once in the back as Hilario fled into the
house, causing him serious bodily injury. Edwards and Hilario
were sixteen and eighteen years old, respectively. At the
time of the shooting, Batts did not know either victim.
Batts returned to the car, he gave the gun back to Bradley.
Although Batts indicated that he felt nothing at the time he
pulled the trigger, immediately after the shooting he stated
that he regretted what he had done and was scared. Bradley
stated that he was pleased with the "work" Batts
had done, and thereafter, Batts was promoted to a higher rank
within the Bloods. According to Batts' statement to
police and his testimony at trial, he participated in the
shooting because he was afraid that if he did not comply with
Bradley's demands, Bradley would kill him.
spent the night at Bradley's house and the following day,
went to Phillipsburg, New Jersey. On February 10, 2006,
police located Batts at a house there. Batts initially
attempted to shield his identity from the police, but he was
ultimately arrested and brought in for an interrogation, for
which his mother and stepfather were present. He waived his
Miranda rights and after two attempts to disclaim
his involvement in the shooting, Batts confessed.
Commonwealth charged Batts with criminal homicide, attempted
criminal homicide, aggravated assault, and two counts of
criminal conspiracy. As we explained in our prior
consideration of this case, despite his age, the homicide
charge removed the matter from the jurisdiction of the
juvenile court and required Batts' case to be filed in
adult criminal court. See Commonwealth v. Batts, 66
A.3d 286, 288 (Pa. 2013) ("Batts I"); 42
Pa.C.S. § 6302 (excepting murder from the definition of
a delinquent act). Batts filed, inter alia, a pretrial motion
requesting the transfer of his case to juvenile court. The
trial court held a hearing on Batts' motion on January 29
and 30, 2007. In support of his motion, Batts presented the
expert testimony and written report of forensic psychologist
Dr. Allan M. Tepper; the Commonwealth countered with expert
testimony and reports from forensic psychologist Dr. Steven
Samuel and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Timothy Michals. Both
sides also presented lay testimony.
considering the evidence presented, the trial court concluded
that Batts failed to satisfy his burden of proving by a
preponderance of the evidence that the public interest would
be served by decertifying the matter to juvenile court.
See 42 Pa.C.S. § 6322(a). In its consideration
of the statutorily required factors,  the trial court
found that the crime was "horrendous" and
negatively impacted the community; that Batts constituted a
"severe threat to the public" and was
"'streetwise, ' with 'a well-developed
criminal mentality and the degree of maturity necessary to
commit audacious criminal acts.'" Batts I,
66 A.3d at 288-89 (quoting Trial Court Order, 2/21/2007, at
5-6). The trial court rejected Dr. Tepper's conclusion
that Batts could be rehabilitated by the age of twenty-one
(the age at which the jurisdiction of the juvenile court
terminates, see 42 Pa.C.S. § 6302 (defining
"child"); Pa.R.J.C.P. 630), instead crediting the
conclusion shared by the Commonwealth's experts
"that rehabilitation, if it ever occurs, will occur only
after years of treatment and a willingness on the part of Mr.
Batts to seek treatment and rehabilitation, something that
their clinical evaluations indicate Mr. Batts is not ready to
accept." Trial Court Order, 2/21/2007, at 6.
case proceeded to a jury trial before the Honorable William
F. Moran in the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas.
Batts advanced a defense of duress based upon his fear that
Bradley would kill him if he did not comply with his orders.
On July 31, 2007, following a six day trial, the jury
convicted Batts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and
aggravated assault. On October 22, 2007, the sentencing court
imposed the then-mandatory term of life in prison without the
possibility of parole for his first-degree murder conviction,
see 18 Pa.C.S. § 1102(a) (amended effective
Dec. 16, 2008 and Oct. 25, 2012), and a concurrent sentence
of six to twenty years of incarceration for attempted murder
(into which his aggravated assault conviction merged for
First Superior Court Appeal
the denial of post-sentence motions, Batts appealed the
decision to the Superior Court raising, in relevant part, a
challenge to the constitutionality of a life-without-parole
sentence imposed upon a juvenile in light of the United
States Supreme Court's decision in Roper v.
Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) (holding that the Eighth
Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the
imposition of the death penalty for a crime committed by a
juvenile). The Superior Court affirmed Batts' judgment of
sentence in an unpublished memorandum, concluding that
because Batts was not sentenced to death, Roper was
inapplicable. It further found that his constitutional
challenge to the mandatory nature of his life-without-parole
sentence was meritless. See Commonwealth v. Batts,
766 EDA 2008, 12-16 (Pa. Super. April 7, 2009) (unpublished
Court granted allowance of appeal but held the matter pending
the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Graham
v. Florida, 129 S.Ct. 2157 (2009), decided, 560
U.S. 48 (2010), and Sullivan v. Florida, 129 S.Ct.
2157 (2009), writ of certiorari dismissed as
improvidently granted, 560 U.S. 181 (2010). Subsequent
to the decision in Graham, Batts' case was
argued before this Court, following which we withheld
decision pending the disposition of Miller v.
Alabama, 565 U.S. 1013 (2011) (per curiam), and
Jackson v. Hobbs, 565 U.S. 1013 (2011) (per curiam),
decided together, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). Batts
I was the first post-Miller decision from this
Court addressing the sentencing of a juvenile offender
convicted of first-degree murder. We therefore requested
supplemental briefs and argument from the parties addressing
the appropriate remedy and availability of relief for Batts
and those similarly situated. See Batts I, 66 A.3d
at 293 (citing Commonwealth v. Batts, 79 MAP 2009,
July 9, 2012 Order (per curiam)).
interim, the Pennsylvania General Assembly responded to
Miller by enacting a new sentencing statute for
juveniles convicted of first- and second-degree murder after
June 24, 2012. See 18 Pa.C.S. §
1102.1(a), (c). As it relates to first-degree murder, section
1102.1 requires defendants who were under the age of fifteen
at the time of the offense to be sentenced, at a minimum, to
twenty-five years to life in prison, or to a term of life in
prison without the possibility of parole. 18 Pa.C.S. §
1102.1(a)(2), (e). Offenders who committed first-degree
murder when they were between the ages of fifteen and
eighteen must be sentenced, pursuant to the statute, to a
minimum of thirty-five years to life in prison, or to a term
of life in prison without the possibility of parole. 18
Pa.C.S. § 1102.1(a)(1), (e). If the Commonwealth intends
to seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole,
it must provide reasonable notice to the defendant following
his or her conviction, prior to sentencing. 18 Pa.C.S. §
1102.1(b). In making its determination of whether to sentence
a defendant to life in prison without parole under subsection
(a), the sentencing court is required to consider and make
findings on the record related to the following factors:
(1) The impact of the offense on each victim, including oral
and written victim impact statements made or submitted by
family members of the victim detailing the physical,
psychological and economic effects of the crime on the victim
and the victim's family. A victim impact statement may
include comment on the sentence of the defendant.
(2) The impact of the offense on the community.
(3) The threat to the safety of the public or any individual
posed by the defendant.
(4) The nature and circumstances of the offense committed by
(5) The degree of the defendant's culpability.
(6) Guidelines for sentencing and resentencing adopted by the
Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing.
(7) Age-related characteristics of the defendant, including:
(ii) Mental capacity.
(iv) The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the
(v) The nature and extent of any prior delinquent or criminal
history, including the success or failure of any previous
attempts by the court to rehabilitate the defendant.
(vi) Probation or institutional reports.
(vii) Other relevant factors.
18 Pa.C.S. § 1102.1(d).
rendering our decision in Batts I, we took note of
section 1102.1, but ultimately concluded that it was
inapplicable because of the date of Batts' conviction.
Batts I, 66 A.3d at 293. In Batts' supplemental
brief and argument to this Court, he contended that, in light
of Miller, Pennsylvania's sentencing scheme for
first-degree murder, requiring a mandatory sentence of life
without parole, was unconstitutional in its entirety. He
asserted that his sentence should thus revert to "the
most severe lesser included offense, namely, third-degree
murder[.]" Id. at 294. We found that argument,
and the inapposite case law presented in support, to be
unavailing. Rather, we agreed with the Commonwealth and its
amicus, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, that
in sentencing a juvenile convicted of first-degree murder, if
the sentencing court found, after considering the requisite
factors, that a life-without-parole sentence was not
appropriate, the problematic portion of the first-degree
murder sentencing scheme was severable, and we could save the
remaining portion of the legislative enactments without
offending the pronouncement in Miller or our rules
of statutory interpretation. See id. at 295-97.
Specifically, the Court noted that section 1102 of the Crimes
Code required, in relevant part, an individual convicted of
first-degree murder to be sentenced "to a term of life
imprisonment." 18 Pa.C.S. § 1102(a)(1). The
"without parole" aspect of the sentence arose from
section 6137(a)(1) of the Parole Code, which prohibited the
release on parole of any person sentenced to life
imprisonment. 61 Pa.C.S. § 6137(a)(1).
therefore held that juveniles convicted of first-degree
murder prior to Miller could, after the sentencing
court's evaluation of the criteria identified in
Miller,  be subjected to a sentence of life in
prison without the possibility of parole. See Batts
I, 66 A.3d at 296. For those defendants for whom the
sentencing court determines a life-without-parole sentence is
inappropriate, "it is our determination here that they
are subject to a mandatory maximum sentence of life
imprisonment as required by [s]ection 1102(a), accompanied by
a minimum sentence determined by the common pleas court upon
resentencing, " id. at 297, striking the
prohibition against paroling an individual sentenced to serve
life in prison in section 6137(a)(1) as applied to these
Court further rejected the argument advanced by Batts and his
amici that Article I, Section 13 of the
Pennsylvania Constitution requires a categorical ban on the
imposition of a life-without-parole sentence for crimes
committed when the defendant was a juvenile. The Court found
that "nothing in the arguments presented suggests that
Pennsylvania's history favors a broader proportionality
rule than what is required by the United States Supreme
Court." Id. at 299. We therefore vacated the
Superior Court's decision in Batts I and
remanded the case to the sentencing court for proceedings
consistent with the opinion.
Baer authored a Concurring Opinion. He fully joined the
Majority's pronouncement, but wrote separately to
suggest, "for purposes of uniformity in sentencing,
" that courts tasked with resentencing juveniles
convicted prior to the Miller decision should look
to section 1102.1 for guidance in setting a defendant's
minimum sentence and to "follow the policy
determinations" encompassed in the statute. Id.
at 300 (Baer, J., concurring).
1, 2014, the sentencing court convened a second sentencing
hearing before the Honorable Michael J. Koury (Judge Moran
had since retired). The
presented the testimony of Thomas Serbin, a Security
Lieutenant at State Correctional Institution Retreat, where
Batts was then housed. Lieutenant Serbin stated that Batts
had been identified as being part of a security threat group
based on Batts' admission when he entered the prison that
he was a member of the Bloods, his continued association and
interaction with other "validated" members of the
Bloods while in prison, and items of contraband found in
Batts' prison cell that the lieutenant indicated were
associated with the Bloods. N.T., 5/1/2014, at 172-73, 179,
184, 188-94, 197-204. Delores Howell, Edwards'
grandmother and primary caregiver from the age of six,
provided victim impact testimony. See id. at 86-91.
Commonwealth further presented an updated report and
testimony of Dr. Michals as an expert in forensic psychiatry.
Id. at 42. Based upon his evaluations of Batts (both
prior to trial and in preparation for the resentencing
hearing) and his review of various records, which included
the results of an examination and psychological testing
conducted by Batts' expert, Dr. Frank Dattilio, it was
Dr. Michals' opinion that Batts' personality "is
developmental in nature" and will not change.
Id. at 49. According to Dr. Michals, "Batts is
who he is and it's the engine that drives his
behavior." Id. at 50. Although Dr. Michals
recognized that the psychological testing revealed that Batts
"really is impulsive, " "has poor
judgment" and "acting out behavior, " it was
Dr. Michals' opinion that these traits are "just
unfortunately part of who he is" and that this is his
"biological genetic makeup." Id. at 50-51.
Dr. Michals testified that it was his belief that people
generally do not change as they age; that,
"[c]haracteristics can change, but it's very
difficult to make changes to the basic structure of our
personality." Id. at 59; see also id.
at 51, 60. He admitted, however, that he "can't say
that they won't change, " as he "can't
predict the future." Id. He could only conclude
that it was "highly unlikely" that Batts would
change. Id. at 71-72.
time he evaluated Batts regarding his motion to transfer his
case to juvenile court, it was Dr. Michals' opinion that
Batts was not amenable to treatment in the juvenile system;
seeing no changes in Batts' personality, he continued to
hold that opinion at Batts' resentencing hearing.
Id. at 57. Dr. Michals acknowledged, however, that
Batts had not yet received any psychological treatment or
counseling in the adult prison system, and that Batts had
taken advantage of programs that had been made available to
him. Id. at 50, 57, 72.
consistent with Dr. Michals' prior opinion, he testified
at the resentencing hearing that Batts "made a
purposeful decision to go ahead and get involved in the
crime." Id. at 51. While Dr. Michals recognized
that Batts was following the instructions of a senior gang
member, and the violence of that organization may have played
a role in Batts' decision to commit the murder, Dr.
Michals believed that Batts "knew what he was doing when
he committed the crime. … He made that choice and
decision and acted upon that choice and decision."
Id. at 60-61. Dr. Michals agreed that Batts'
childhood ‒ marked by physical abuse, parental neglect,
and repeated moves within the foster care system during his
early childhood and adolescence ‒ could have affected
his decision making at the time of the murder, but in Dr.
Michals' opinion, "it didn't, " as the gang
simply provided him with "an option." Id.
at 64, 67.
likewise presented the testimony and report of an expert
‒ forensic psychologist Dr. Dattilio ‒ at the
resentencing hearing. Unlike Dr. Michals, Dr. Dattilio found
Batts' tumultuous childhood to be highly significant in
this matter. Id. at 99-100. Although Dr. Dattilio
agreed with Dr. Michals that Batts knew that shooting and
killing someone was wrong, he found that Batts' decision
making was skewed by the absence of a traditional role model
in his life during his early childhood. Dr. Dattilio opined
that Batts thus lacked the ability to weigh his options and
make an appropriate decision when he was directed by a senior
gang member to do something he knew was wrong. Id.
at 101-02, 156-57. According to Dr. Dattilio, the absence of
"attachment bonds" with parents and family members
when Batts was a young child affected his self-esteem and
self-worth, resulting in "hardened personality
characteristics, " and left him particularly vulnerable
to gang involvement. Id. at 100, 104-05; see
also id. at 105 ("[A]ntisocial behavior and
activity … not only go hand in hand with the
environment he was raised in, but then certainly … the
gang which had become his family is oriented in that
complicating Batts' decision making, in Dr.
Dattilio's view, was Batts' age at the time of the
shooting, which played "a major role":
At 14-years-old [sic] we're just forming our sense of
self, our sense of use of judgment and reason. It's in
the process of development as is the brain. We know that
anatomically the brain still doesn't stop developing
until an individual is sometimes beyond 21 years of age, so
there's a lot of things with regard to his ability to use
judgment, to use reason, assertiveness, sense of balancing
out risks versus rewards, so on and so forth, so he was very,
very vulnerable at that point.
Id. at 107-08. Factoring in Batts' low-average
IQ with his young age and his difficult childhood, Dr.
Dattilio opined that Batts' judgment was profoundly
compromised at the time of the shooting. Id. at 112.
Dattilio was also of the opinion that Batts' "level
of sophistication[, ] which was not very high, " also
affected his ability to make a sound decision. Id.
at 108. While seemingly streetwise, Batts' judgment was
clouded by the idea of "being part of a crowd" and
gaining acceptance. Id. According to Dr. Dattilio,
Batts did not appreciate "the shortcomings of having to
put in work and doing what he was told or the consequences
are serious." Id. In fact, despite the fact
that Evans, his friend and fellow Bloods member, was jailed
for criminal activity prior to Batts joining the Bloods, Dr.
Dattilio stated that this did not "compute" for
Batts. Id. at 109. To explain this ostensibly
inexplicable disconnect, Dr. Dattilio reminded those in the
courtroom, who had "level heads" and came from
"environments that were in tact [sic] and balanced,
" that Batts was of an entirely different mindset
because of his age and the "horrible environment"
from whence he came. Id.
the psychological testing he conducted, Dr. Dattilio
concluded that Batts had matured since the initial mental
status examination that was performed when Batts was a
teenager. Id. at 104. It was Dr. Dattilio's
opinion not only that Batts had the capacity to change, but
he has exhibited that capacity in expressing genuine remorse
for his actions. Id. at 110, 161. With therapy, Dr.
Dattilio testified that Batts would be able to address
"the disruptive attachment bonds" of his childhood
and learn how to find new, healthy relationships and
connections. Id. at 111. Dr. Dattilio further
accepted Batts' statement to him that he was no longer a
gang member ‒ in his view, the evidence adduced by
Lieutenant Serbin to the contrary was unconvincing and
unclear. Id. at 113-14, 145-53, 161.
also presented a sentencing memorandum from expert Dana L.
Cook, M.S., Deputy Director of The Atlantic Center for
Capital Representation. She concluded, based on her review of
records, interviews she conducted with Batts and his family
members (particularly as it relates to Batts' traumatic
childhood experiences and his current level of maturity) and
the brain science relied upon by the United States Supreme
Court in Roper and its progeny, that Batts "has
an extraordinary amount of potential to be a law-abiding
member of society, [which] will surely be enhanced by a now
stable and loving family." Dana Cook's Report,
12/31/2013, at 4. In her view, Batts' "potential for
rehabilitation cannot be understated, " as her
interactions with him show that "[h]e understands things
now in [a] way he wasn't capable of at 14 years of
age." Id., Addendum at 3.
mother, Shaniqua Batts, testified regarding the positive
changes she has already seen in her son. Id. at
165-67. Batts also testified, accepting responsibility for
his actions, apologizing to Delores Howell, assuring the
sentencing court that he has matured over the preceding
decade, and denying that he continued to be a member of a
gang. Id. at 169-71. His former high school
principal, Gregory A. Troxell, sent an unsolicited letter to
the sentencing court advocating for a term-of-years sentence
for Batts, portraying Batts' actions on the night in
question as out of character from the person he had known
over the preceding several years. Id. at 80-82.
prison record was also considered by the sentencing court. It
revealed that Batts has been disciplined for five infractions
throughout his post-sentence incarceration, only one of which
was for a physical fight with another inmate during a
basketball game in May 2010. Id. at 79, 118-20;
N.T., 5/2/2014, at 34-35. Apart from several
discipline-related suspensions, Batts has remained employed
while in prison and participates in various sports, fitness
and personal enrichment programs (including GED, leadership
development, long-term offenders, violence prevention, resume
creation and job application courses) offered to him there.
N.T., 5/2/2014, at 33-34.
2, 2014, following its consideration of the entire record,
the sentencing memoranda submitted by the parties, an October
2013 presentence investigation report, the various reports
from the psychological evaluations to which Batts had been
subjected over the life of the case, and the sentencing
memorandum prepared by Dana Cook, the sentencing court
provided a lengthy explanation of its findings. It indicated
that in deciding the appropriate sentence for Batts, it took
into account the general factors in section 9721(b) of the
Sentencing Code,  the Miller factors and the
factors identified in 18 Pa.C.S. § 1102.1(d), concluding
that its sentencing decision required a "balancing of
the factors" at issue. N.T., 5/2/2014, at 56.
sentencing court found the following to "weigh against
• "the nature and circumstances" of the crime,
i.e., that Batts committed a premeditated murder and
attempted murder of "two defenseless boys" to
achieve a promotion within the gang;
• he acted alone in committing the killing;
• there was no justification for the crimes; the
sentencing court found his assertion that he feared reprisal
by Bradley to be incredible, and that his claim of peer
pressure did not merit consideration as Batts "sought
out and embraced the peer pressure by seeking membership in
the Bloods gang";
• the victims were unarmed and unsuspecting teenagers;
• Batts failed to cooperate with police in that he
"fled the state" and attempted to hide his identity
when police located him, lied during the initial
interrogation and only confessed when he realized the police
already had evidence implicating him;
• the impact the crimes have had on Hilario,
Edwards' family, and the community;
• the sentencing court's desire not to minimize the
seriousness of the crimes;
• "the uncertainty of [Batts'] amenability to
treatment, " noting "[a]lthough you may ultimately
prove to be amenable to treatment, the experts have indicated
that any rehabilitation will require years of
• the need to protect the public from Batts because of
the crimes committed, his "history of violence,
aggression and disrespect for the law, " and the
question of whether he could be amenable to treatment.
Id. at 56-60. As to factors weighing in favor of his
capacity for change, the sentencing court found:
• Batts' "childhood experiences" ‒
including his repeated moves in the foster care system
throughout his formative years, the absence of an attachment
to a stable and trusted adult, his exposure to violence by
his mother and in the foster care system, as well as his
sexual victimization by his cousin ‒ all of which led
him to seek out a cohesive and caring family, and made him
vulnerable to the attractiveness of a street gang, which the
sentencing court found suggested that he could "benefit
from psychotherapy or other forms of rehabilitation";
• scientific studies concluding that juvenile offenders
are less culpable than adults; however, the court found that
Batts' age only slightly lessened his culpability here
"because [his] crimes were not the product of
recklessness, poor judgment, lack of foresight,
susceptibility to peer pressure or weak impulse control,
" and instead "were deliberate and premeditated
• Batts' showing of remorse, recognition of the
wrongfulness of his conduct, and compassion for his victims;
• although Batts admitted to underage drinking,
marijuana use and selling drugs for the Bloods, he had no
prior criminal record, generally did well academically and
excelled at various sports;
• he is employed in prison, has taken classes on
leadership and violence prevention, and engaged in
• he has a close relationship with his family and
attempts to be a positive role model for his younger brother;
• expert opinions that, given his age and the insights
he has gained since committing the crimes, years of
psychotherapy could improve his "psychological
Id. at 60-63. The sentencing court did not consider
the evidence that Batts may have continued his association
with members of the Bloods gang, as it found there was no
evidence that he engaged in any violent gang activity in
prison. Id. at 63.
sentencing court found, "weighing all the factors[, ]
… that the factors not in [Batts'] favor
significantly outweigh the factors in his favor, " and
that the crimes in question did not "reflect unfortunate
yet transient immaturity." Id. at 64-65.
Instead, the sentencing court found, "On the evening of
February 7, 2006, you committed a calculated, callous and
cold-blooded murder. You made yourself the judge, jury and
executioner of Clarence Edwards and, if not for the grace of
God, you would also have killed Corey Hilario."
Id. at 66.
thereafter, the sentencing court reinstituted a sentence of
life in prison without the possibility of parole for
Batts' first-degree murder conviction, and further
resentenced him to a concurrent term of ten to twenty years
of incarceration for attempted murder. Id. at 67.
Judge Koury then went on to recount how, after he decided
that Batts should serve life without parole for the murder,
he drove by the crime scene and replayed the events of
February 7, 2006 in his head, imagining Delores Howell coming
out to the porch and seeing her grandson with two gunshot
wounds to his head. Id. at 68.
Second Superior Court Appeal
divided panel of the Superior Court affirmed the judgment of
sentence. Of relevance to the case at bar, the majority
opinion, authored by then-Judge (now Justice) Mundy, found
Batts' claim that the evidence was insufficient to permit
him to be subjected to a life-without-parole sentence was a
challenge to the discretionary aspects of sentencing.
Commonwealth v. Batts, 125 A.3d 33, 42 (Pa. Super.
2015). Because Batts failed to file a concise statement of
reasons for the Superior Court to review the discretionary
aspects of his sentence, as required Rule 2119(f) of the
Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure, and the
Commonwealth objected to this omission, the majority
concluded that Batts had waived the claim. Id. at
44. The majority declined Batts' request to impose a
burden of proof upon the Commonwealth seeking to impose a
life-without-parole sentence for a juvenile or to apply a
heightened standard of appellate review, concluding that the
requested relief would have to come from the General Assembly
or from this Court pursuant to our rulemaking power.
Id. at 43; see Pa. Const. art. V, §
10(c). It further found meritless his claim that juveniles
convicted of first-degree murder are entitled to the same
constitutional protections as adults facing the death
penalty. Batts, 125 A.3d at 44-45.
Justice (now Senior Judge) Fitzgerald disagreed with the
finding of waiver of Batts' sentencing claim based upon
his failure to comply with Rule 2119(f), giving three reasons
for his dissent. First, murder is not a "felony or
misdemeanor" subject to the discretionary review
process. See 18 Pa.C.S. § 106(a) (listing three
types of crimes: murders, felonies, and misdemeanors). As the
jurisdictional requirements for the Superior Court to
consider the discretionary aspects of sentencing in 42
Pa.C.S. § 9781(b) apply only to felonies and
misdemeanors, he found a sentence for a murder conviction was
not "subject to the discretionary review process."
Batts, 125 A.3d at 49 (Fitzgerald, J., concurring
and dissenting); see 42 Pa.C.S. § 9781(b)
("The defendant or the Commonwealth may file a petition
for allowance of appeal of the discretionary aspects of a
sentence for a felony or a misdemeanor to the appellate court
that has initial jurisdiction for such appeals.").
Second, the sentence for a juvenile convicted of first-degree
murder does not arise from the Sentencing Code, thus further
removing appellate review of the sentence from the strictures
of section 9781(b). Id. at 49-50 (citing 42 Pa.C.S.
§ 9781(b) (providing that review of a challenge to the
discretionary aspects of sentencing requires the petitioning
party to show a substantial question that the sentence
imposed is not appropriate under the Sentencing Code)).
Third, Judge Fitzgerald believed that the issue under
consideration, involving the imposition of a sentence of life
without parole on a juvenile, was "a sufficiently
extraordinary legal question to warrant review despite a
procedural default." Id. at 50.
Fitzgerald would have decided the claim on its merits and, in
so doing, would have concluded that the decision to
resentence Batts to life without the possibility of parole
was unsupported by both the record and the prevailing law.
See id. at 49-54. In his view, the sentencing court
improperly "framed its choice as two extremes: the
Commonwealth's recommendation that [Batts] be sentenced
to life without parole, and [Batts'] request for a
sentence of twenty-five years to life as suggested by 18
Pa.C.S. § 1102.1." Id. at 54 (citing N.T.,
5/2/2014, at 56). The sentencing court gave no meaningful
consideration to imposing a minimum term of incarceration
above the twenty-five-year minimum sentence it rejected.
Id. Further, according to Judge Fitzgerald, the
sentencing court's belief that a sentence less than life
without parole would constitute an act of
"leniency" represents a misunderstanding of
"the nature of our indeterminate sentencing
scheme." Id.; see Commonwealth v.
Daniel, 243 A.2d 400, 403 (Pa. 1968) ("the maximum
sentence is the real sentence … the only portion of
the sentence which has legal validity").
filed a petition for allowance of appeal to this Court, and
we granted his request to answer the following questions:
1. In Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court
outlawed mandatory life without parole for juveniles , and
instructed that the discretionary imposition of this sentence
should be "uncommon" and reserved for the
"rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable
i. There is currently no procedural mechanism to ensure that
juvenile [life without parole] 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 [life
without parole]; (b) a requirement for competent expert
testimony; and (c) a "beyond a reasonable doubt"
standard of proof?
ii. The lower court reviewed [Batts'] 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 [life without
parole] to the death penalty. [Batts] received objectively
less procedural due process than an adult facing capital
punishment. Should the ...