Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has made it far more difficult to sentence juveniles to life without parole — a striking about-face in a state that is home to the largest population of juvenile lifers in the nation, Philly.com reports. In the case of Qu’eed Batts, who has twice been sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole, the court ruled that there is a presumption against life sentences for juveniles, and that in order to sentence a minor to life, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he or she is incapable of rehabilitation.
Gang member Batts was 14 when he shot and killed another teen,. He appealed after the U.S. Supreme Court which found automatic life-without-parole sentences unconstitutional, and later that states like Pennsylvania that had declined to apply the ruling retroactively must do so. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court “is ensuring those sentences are only imposed in the rarest of circumstances,” said Marsha Levick of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center. About two-thirds of more than 300 juvenile lifers from Philadelphia are still awaiting new sentences. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has said it will seek life sentences in just a handful of those cases.