Court: Life without parole for juveniles unconstitutional

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A split Washington Supreme Court has ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional.

In a 5-4 ruling Thursday, the majority affirmed a Court of Appeals ruling in the case of Brian Bassett, who was convicted in 1996 of three charges of aggravated first-degree murder for fatally shooting his parents and drowning his 5-year-old brother in a bathtub the year before.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 ruled that it was unconstitutional for juveniles to receive automatic sentences of life without the possibility of parole. In response to that ruling, the Washington Legislature eliminated mandatory life sentences for juveniles under age 16 convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and required sentencing courts to take into account mitigating factors before sentencing a 16- or 17-year-old. Thursday’s ruling removes that option for 16 and 17 year olds, and sends Bassett’s case back to the trial judge for resentencing.

Four justices dissented, saying that the legislative changes made after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling were constitutional.