SEATTLE (AP) — The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a new sentencing hearing for a man who was 15-years-old when he fatally shot two men and injured another.
The justices unanimously reversed a lower court ruling and said Jeremiah Gilbert should be resentenced for the 1992 killings in Klickitat County.
They based their decision on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said mandatory life sentences for juveniles violates their constitutional rights.
“Juveniles are different than adults,” said Rita Griffith, who filed a brief in this case on behalf of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “They don’t have the same kind of impulse control, and life without parole means no matter how they change, they’ll never get out again. The courts say this is a factor that needs to be taken into account.”
Gilbert was a teenage runaway when he tried to steal a car with a friend. Gilbert shot and injured the car’s owner and then fatally shot a motorcyclist and another man who arrived on the scene.
Gilbert was sentenced to life in prison for the aggravated murder of Loren Evans along with a consecutive 280-month sentence for the first-degree murder of the motorcyclist Robert Gresham.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting mandatory life sentences for juveniles, Washington legislators changed state law and required new sentences for any cases impacted.
The court held a new hearing for Gilbert in 2015. His lawyers said the judge should adjust both his life sentence and the consecutive 280-month term, but the judge said he lacked authority to do anything other than adjust the aggravated murder sentence.
The Supreme Court said that was a mistake.
The justices said the judge and lower appeals court should have also considered a previous high court ruling that said judges have the discretion to impose lighter sentences for juveniles in firearm enhancement cases, too.
Courts must consider the mitigating circumstances related to a defendant’s youth, including the juvenile’s immaturity, impetuosity and failure to appreciate risks and consequences, the justices said.
“Because the judge presiding over Gilbert’s resentencing believed he did not have discretion to consider anything other than an adjustment to the aggravated murder sentence, he did not consider whether the mitigating factors of Gilbert’s youth might warrant an exceptional sentence,” the court said.
“We hold this to be error. Gilbert was entitled at his resentencing to consideration of an exceptional sentence in light of the potential mitigating factors of youth.”