The Washington Supreme Court unanimously upheld the state’s “three strikes” sentencing law, even for people who commit their first strike as young adults.
Justice Mary Yu described “growing discomfort” with the “routine practice” of issuing mandatory life sentences, reports KUOW Radio. In a concurring opinion, Yu said now that the court has struck down the death penalty, life without the possibility of parole is the most severe sentence possible in Washington state and merits a “serious reexamination” of its own. “Like the death penalty, a life sentence without the possibility of parole is the deprivation of hope,” she said. Yu said every convicted defendant should have an opportunity for release and to demonstrate their rehabilitation and transformation.
“We should join the national movement favoring release upon a showing of rehabilitation and inject into our sentencing practices the exercise of mercy, compassion, and the fact that we know not a person’s capacity to change,” Yu said. The court’s majority upheld the state’s three strikes law, which requires a mandatory life sentence without possibility for parole for the most serious crimes, even in cases where the defendant was a young adult aged 19 to 21 at the time of the first offense. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that, in light of research on brain development, sentencing should reflect that juvenile offenders have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform. The Washington Supreme Court said those considerations don’t apply to these people, because the third strike offenses occurred decades later. “These petitioners are fully-developed adults who were repeatedly given opportunities to prove they could change,” Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote. “We do not have to guess whether they will continue committing crimes into adulthood because they already have.”