Some Georgia prisoners serving life sentences without parole will be re-sentenced after a recent state Supreme Court ruling invalidated the terms under which those inmates were punished.As heard on the radio
Those who qualify for resentencing would have been sentenced before they turned 18 and faced the death penalty. Stephen Reba, an attorney with Emory University’s Barton Child Law and Policy Center, says the majority of those who will see new sentences would be about 30 years old today.
“[The court decision] means they can’t be resentenced to an illegal sentence, and the court has said life without parole is an illegal sentence,” said Reba, who represents several men up for resentencing.
Reba is referring to is a recent state Supreme Court decision in the case of Marcus Moore, in which the court unanimously ruled Moore was too young to receive a life sentence without parole under a 2005 U.S Supreme Court decision.
In 2001, then-17-year-old Moore was found guilty of murdering Neiteka Wesbey and Corey McMillan, among other crimes committed in the commission of felony murder. Before the sentencing hearing, Moore entered a plea deal to avoid the death penalty. Under the terms, he agreed waive his rights to appeal in exchange for a life sentence without parole.
“In order to receive a life without parole sentence on that charge at the time – the defendant had to be death penalty eligible – had to be noticed with the death penalty first – in order to receive a life without parole sentence,” Reba said.
But in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court said in Roper v. Simmons it’s unconstitutional to use the death penalty against offenders who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime. That led the Georgia Supreme Court in October to unanimously rule Moore’s sentence void.
“Since they could not have been subjected to the death penalty at the time Mr. Moore’s sentence was imposed, he could not have been subject to the possibility of life without parole,” said WABE legal analyst Page Pate.
Reba estimates about 10 men – all convicted of murder – would qualify for resentencing.
Pate says while those men can’t be resentenced to life without parole, the state Supreme Court decision doesn’t prevent future juveniles from receiving that sentence, as Georgia sentencing law no longer ties life without parole to the death penalty.
“Going forward, it’s still an open question whether juveniles can be sentenced to life without parole and whether that’s constitutional,” Pate said.
As for Marcus Moore and the others who are eligible for resentencing, Reba said most will likely receive life sentences with the option for parole. He says when each inmate qualifies for parole will depend on when they were sentenced.
A spokesperson for Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens says the office would not arrange new trials.