It was standing room only last fall when Superior Court heard arguments about whether Avis Lee, who was 18 when she served as lookout in a 1981 robbery, was really just a kid at the time, and therefore constitutionally protected from automatic life without parole.
The case, attendees hoped, could clear the way for as many as a thousand Pennsylvania lifers who were just a couple years into adulthood to be resentenced under the same U.S. Supreme Court decision that relied in part on evolving neuroscience to determine that juveniles are less culpable than adults, and so cannot be sentenced to life in prison without individualized hearings.
Now, the court has issued its ruling: It is “bound by precedent” to reject Lee’s argument.
However, the Superior Court’s panel wrote in a unanimous opinion: “We would urge our Supreme Court to review this issue in light of the research available.”
Bret Grote, of the Pittsburgh-based Abolitionist Law Center, said he intends to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Though that court has declined to review the issue in similar cases in the past, he said the Superior Court opinion might sway the justices. “That they explicitly urged the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review the issue certainly shows that there are important legal and policy issues at play that need to be decided at the highest level," he said.