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Washington Supreme Court ends life sentences without parole for juveniles

Our state’s highest court on Thursday ruled 5-4 that it’s unconstitutional to sentence juveniles of any age to life without parole.

RELATED: State Supreme Court ends death penalty in Washington

It’s been a busy month of landmark decisions for the Supreme Court of Washington, fresh off of its ruling to end capital punishment in the state. This latest decision affirms a Court of Appeals ruling in the case of Brian Bassett, convicted in 1996 for three charges of aggravated first-degree murder for murdering his parents and brother.

Following a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down automatic life sentences for juveniles, the Washington legislature stopped mandatory life sentences for anyone under 16 in cases of aggravated first-degree murder. The most recent ruling by the state Supreme Court now removes life sentences for 16 and 17-year-olds.

“This applies across the board to juveniles under the age of 18, and it doesn’t appear to make any difference whether they’re tried as adults or not,” former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna told KIRO Radio.

“Long sentences will be possible for juveniles who commit murder, but not sentences that keep them from ever being paroled,” he added.

McKenna went on to explain that the logic behind the ruling boils down to the fact “that protection against cruel punishment under our state constitution is stronger than the 8th Amendment protection.” 

This follows an ongoing trend, where “more and more states are moving away from the sentence of life without possibility of parole for juveniles.”

For McKenna’s part, he argued that life without parole should still be reserved for specific cases, including ones like Bassett’s.

“When you’ve got a really horrific set of murders, as we did here, with a 16-year-old killing his parents and his brother in a premeditated murder, this sentence should be reserved and be available for those harshest cases.”

This latest ruling will sent Bassett’s case back for resentencing.

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