Life sentence for Louisiana man convicted for juvenile crime found to be unconstitutional
A 22-year-old Baton Rouge man sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when he was a juvenile will now have a chance to get out of prison after the Louisiana Supreme Court held that his sentence is unconstitutional.
Thayer Green was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole after he was arrested in 2012 for battery and home invasion of a residence where the mother of his child lived. He had previously been convicted of simple burglary and simple robbery. East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore successfully sought a life sentence on the home invasion charge under the state’s habitual offender statute.
On appeal, Green’s counsel argued that his life sentence conflicted with Graham v. Florida, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case which found that juvenile offenders could not be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide offenses. In that decision, as well as subsequent rulings addressing juvenile sentencing, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted how “developments in psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds.”
Prosecutors argued that Graham didn’t apply because Green had committed multiple offenses before being convicted and sentenced for this crime. But the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected that argument.
“The Supreme Court’s decision in Graham was founded on the notion that juvenile non-homicide offenders, because of their youth and greater capacity for reform, are significantly less culpable than adults who have committed the same or worse offenses, and therefore deserve different treatment at sentencing,” the Louisiana Supreme Court said in its ruling. The Court also questioned the use of prior juvenile convictions to be used to enhance Green’s sentence.
The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed that Graham prohibited a determination to be made that someone like Green, who was a juvenile at the time of the offense, “will never be fit to rejoin society.” Following the holding in Graham, the Court held that Louisiana “must give such an offender a ‘meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.’” Accordingly, the Court ordered the Louisiana Department of Corrections to remove the restriction on Green’s parole eligibility.
The justices also sent Green’s case back to state District Judge Chip Moore for a hearing on whether the trial court’s initial decision to impose consecutive sentences constituted “excessive punishment” under Louisiana law.
Mike Mitchell, East Baton Rouge Parish’s chief public defender, said he would seek to show that Green is capable of rehabilitation and should have a chance at release.