Supreme Court refuses to halt resentencings of juvenile murderers | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Supreme Court refuses to halt resentencings of juvenile murderers

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 10:59 AM

A split Arkansas Supreme Court today refused to stop planned resentencing hearings for seven prison inmates serving life without parole sentences for murders they committed as juveniles.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders were unconstitutional, the Arkansas legislature moved to change the law. In 2017, it passed a law saying all those sentenced to life without parole should be eligible for parole hearings after 30 years. But Pulaski Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen held the Arkansas legislative fix was unconstitutional, giving undue control to the executive branch, which appoints the parole board. He said resentencing hearings should be held and a number have been scheduled. He cited existing Arkansas Supreme Court precedent at the time.

The state of Arkansas asked the Supreme Court for a stay of those resentencing hearings and said the circuit court decision was wrong, particularly in light of subsequent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that even allow life without parole cases for juveniles in certain extraordinary circumstances.

The state's motion today arguing the circuit court had exceeded its authority was denied, but three of the seven justices — Chief Justice Dan Kemp and Justices Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack — would have granted the request and stayed the resentencing hearings. The motion was denied in a perfunctory per curiam order. The state still may contest the future result of any of the resentencing hearings.

Wood wrote a brief dissenting opinion in one of the cases. She said the Supreme Court had said the states weren't required to relitigate sentences and could allow the offenders to be considered for parole instead. She noted that the Supreme Court had cited a Wyoming law that provided parole eligibility after 25 years as a sufficient remedy to the life-without sentences.

The Arkansas General Assembly statutorily provided defendants in Arkansas the "Wyoming remedy" when it enacted the Fair Sentencing of Minors Act (FSMA), Act 539 of 2017. As I believe compliance with FSMA is the correct procedure, I would grant the writ.
The decisions came in the cases of Damarcus Jordan, Prince Johnson, Charles Lee, Mervin Jenkins, Wallace Allen, Terry Carroll and Brandon Hardman.

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