High court rulings, state laws not fully compatible

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SHERIDAN— Throughout the all-day resentencing hearing for Wyatt Bear Cloud Wednesday in 4th Judicial District Court, attorneys and Judge John Fenn debated the complexities of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling and the 2013 law established by the Wyoming Legislature that eliminated life imprisonment without parole sentences for juveniles.

The U.S. Supreme Court had been moving toward banning juvenile life sentences for several years leading up to their 2012 ruling.

In 2005, the court eliminated the juvenile death penalty. In 2010, the court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without parole was also unconstitutional, but only for those juveniles who committed crimes that did not involve killings.

In the 2012 decision barring juvenile life sentences without parole, Justice Elana Kagan wrote that the problem with mandatory sentences is that “every juvenile will receive the same sentence as every other — the 17-year-old and the 14-year-old, the shooter and the accomplice, the child from a stable household and the child from a chaotic and abusive one.”

In this light, attorneys discussed many of those factors during Wednesday’s hearing, but also issues with the law created by the Wyoming Legislature.

While the U.S. Supreme Court directly addressed factors that should be considered in sentencing, the Wyoming Legislature made no mention of such factors in the 2013 law.

“It seems to ignore any logic the (U.S.) Supreme Court set forth with these factors,” Fenn said Wednesday.

He added that while factors like home life, character and circumstances of the crime may still be considered, there is no room for discretion in the sentence.

All juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment will be eligible for parole consideration after 25 years, no matter the horrific nature of the crime committed.

“These problems were pointed out at the time of the law’s passing,” Redle said, adding that this would not be the first time the Legislature is faced with correcting “mistakes of the past.”

He added that the judge did not need to follow the “bad example” of the Legislature in Bear Cloud’s resentencing. When Fenn asked if the Legislature’s law truly was a bad example Redle said it was.

“It is a bad example. It is a bad example for precisely the reason you pointed out,” Redle said. “It exchanged one sentence for another without (giving courts the authority) to consider culpability.”

Other issues discussed Wednesday included the precedent Bear Cloud’s case would set, but Redle said this was “not the only case that will govern the future.” He cited several cases that may or are being reconsidered nationally and statewide.

By |August 29th, 2013|

About the Author:

Kristen Czaban joined The Sheridan Press staff in 2008 and covered beats including local government, cops and courts and the energy industry. In 2012, she was promoted and now serves as the managing editor for The Press. Czaban has a journalism degree from Northwestern University.