PHILADELPHIA (June 3, 2016) – Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams today released the following statement about the specialized protocol the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) is using to review approximately 300 juvenile life sentence cases as ordered by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in Miller vs. Alabama and Montgomery vs. Louisiana.
As the independently elected District Attorney of the City of Philadelphia, my job is to fairly apply the law. The Supreme Court of the United States issued their ruling earlier this year, and so today, I’m happy to share the protocol my team and I are using to review these cases.
Other states and counties across the U.S. are looking to Philadelphia to see what we are doing. Our plan meets the Supreme Court’s ruling and takes into consideration public safety, the defendant’s rights, and the services and supports they may need once released; all while respecting the victims and their families. As a policy matter, I recognize that the Court’s ruling emphasized the characteristics of youth and the need for individualized sentences for defendants, based on their age, with minimum and maximum sentences.
We began working on our plan on January 25th, the day Montgomery was decided, and we are going to use the new sentencing structure, applied retroactively as we take into account the age of the defendant at the time of the murder, to provide hope and a light at the end of the tunnel for these individuals who have been serving sentences, many decades-long, of life without the possibility of parole.
The first two cases are in court today, and so I’m thankful for the judges and defense attorneys who are working hard at this difficult task. Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel for his progressive approach to help prepare these individuals for release. And to all of our partners: The City of Philadelphia, First Judicial District, PA Board of Probation and Parole, PA Department of Corrections, and the Defender Association of Philadelphia.
The following step-by-step overview details the process that will be used by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) to review the sentences of the approximately 300 life sentence cases as ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller vs. Alabama and Montgomery vs. Louisiana. The protocol was created by the DAO. The entire review process could take approximately three years.
- Step 1: Beginning with the oldest cases, order the archived case file and verify the defendant’s eligibility for review by looking at his/her age at the time of the crime, role played in the case, sentence received, and if there are other concurrent or consecutive sentences. If the defendant does not meet the age requirements or has a concurrent or consecutive sentence he/she will not be eligible for resentencing.
- Step 2: If the defendant is found eligible, their file will be saved in the DAO’s case management database.
- Step 3: The DAO will order and review the defendant’s FBI Extract and PA Department of Corrections’ Prison Adjustment History. These documents will be used to verify that the defendant does not have a conviction in another state or in the Federal system. Additionally, the Office will review the defendant’s conduct in prison as provided by the Department of Corrections.
- Step 4: The DAO will contact the victim’s family to explain the new law and the DAO’s review process. Family members will also be told about their right to attend court proceedings and to submit a victim impact statement.
- Step 5: Examine all the relevant facts from all sources, including the victim’s family, and determine a fair and appropriate sentence.
- Step 6: Contact the defendant’s counsel to negotiate a new sentence for the defendant. If there is an agreement, the case will be scheduled for a resentencing hearing before a homicide judge in the Court of Common Pleas. In court, the DAO will recommend a new sentence using the Commonwealth’s current sentencing statute (18 Pa.C.S.A. 1102) as its guide. If there is no negotiation, the case will be scheduled with the First Judicial District.
- Step 7: After the court implements a new sentence, the PA Board of Probation and Parole will make any further determinations regarding parole and or release.