Federal Judge Chides PA DA on Juvenile Lifer Terms

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The Philadelphia District Attorney has conceded that a judge resentencing “juvenile lifers” may impose a minimum sentence lower than the 35 years that the office has been offering in such cases, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The prosecutor’s office agreed to move ahead with resentencing for Kempis Songster, 44, who is serving life without parole for a murder he committed in 1987 at age 15. A frustrated U.S. District Judge Timothy Savage – who ordered a new sentence for Songster four years ago, and again in August with a 120-day deadline – said the office’s policy of offering all inmates the same deal for a new sentence was inconsistent with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that put back into play about 300 murder cases in Philadelphia involving juveniles.

Savage had urged resentencings in which a judge would have discretion to impose “individualized, proportionate sentences,” take into consideration an inmate’s rehabilitation, and impose a maximum of life only in “the rarest of permanently incorrigible” cases. Yesterday, Savage told a prosecutor, “It seems you’re treating all of these folks the same way – 35 years to life. I don’t get that. That to me appears to show a lack of due diligence, of looking at each case individually. I understand you want to do this for policy reasons. Maybe because it looks good.” Songster’s case and others are back in the courts as a consequence of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January that made retroactive the court’s ban on automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. The ruling affects about 2,300 cases nationwide, about 500 of which are in Pennsylvania – including about 300 in Philadelphia.


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