Law \ Legal

Life Sentence for Teen Upheld By Washington High Court

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One year after saying virtual life sentences are unconstitutional for teenage killers, the Washington Supreme Court upheld a 61-year sentence for Tonelli Anderson, a Black man who was 17 when he shot two women, killing one of them and blinding the other, during a drug robbery in 1994, reports the Star Tribune. The ruling abandoned the precedent, established first in 2018 and then again in 2021, holding that such a long sentence for a juvenile is essentially a life sentence because it leaves the defendant without “a meaningful opportunity to rejoin society after leaving prison.”

Instead, in a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that such virtual life sentences for juveniles are barred by the state Constitution only if their crimes “reflect youthful immaturity, impetuosity, or failure to appreciate risks and consequences.” Dissenting justices pointed to potential discrimination behind the change of course, highlighted by the fact that the two cases establishing the previous precedent involved white defendants, while Anderson is Black.

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