NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s Supreme Court is considering whether recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings about juveniles convicted of murder mean a juvenile robber’s 99-year sentence is unconstitutional.
Alden Morgan, 35, was 17-years-old when he used a gun to hold up a couple with their baby daughter and took their car. The gun went off but no one was injured. He was sentenced to 99 years without parole.
Several justices noted that his punishment is much higher than the nation’s highest court would have allowed for second-degree murder, The New Orleans Advocate (http://bit.ly/2cZLyUz ) reported.
“What’s the difference between 99 years and mandatory life? Can we discuss that?” Chief Justice Bernette Johnson asked Sept. 8.
Justice John Weiner said such a sentence “essentially and perversely” provides incentive “to actually pull the trigger and commit the homicide, because then he’s entitled to parole eligibility, but if he doesn’t kill anybody, he’s not.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has found it unconstitutional to execute juveniles, to give them life sentences for most crimes, and – except in rare cases – to deny them a chance at parole for most killings.
Morgan’s case appears to be the first time that Louisiana’s high court has considered how those rulings may affect sentences for lesser offenses.
A few of the justices also noted that prosecutors offered only one argument: that Morgan is legally out of luck in seeking a reprieve from the sentence that former Criminal District Court Judge Julian Parker handed him in 1999.
Morgan was tracked by one of the victim’s cellphones and arrested shortly after the holdup. He confessed, saying the gun went off accidentally as he bent to pick the man’s wallet from the ground.
The couple testified that Morgan had kept the gun pointed to the ground as the mother unstrapped the baby from the car seat, and they heard it go off as they retreated.
Judge Julian Parker gave the maximum sentence, saying Morgan showed no remorse and had planned to kill either the baby or father.
All of Morgan’s appeals were rejected. But he filed a new challenge from prison based on the recent U.S. Supreme Court cases, including the retroactive ban on mandatory life sentences for juveniles. The state Supreme Court took up his case last year, assigning the Loyola Law Clinic to represent him.