Juvenile offenders who were 17 years old when they committed the crime can be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
In reviewing an appeal by Lamonte Martin, who was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder, the court said Martin's sentence was not cruel and unusual punishment.
A Hennepin County jury had found Martin guilty of murder and committing a crime for the benefit of a gang in the May 2006 death of Christopher Lynch in north Minneapolis. Martin appealed, both on the basis of his age when the crime was committed, and because of several issues he raised about his trial.
In issuing the majority opinion, Justice Christopher Dietzen cited a previous Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that found that a juvenile defendant's life sentence without release did not result in a constitutional violation. He noted that prior decisions are not overruled without a compelling reason.
Martin said in his appeal that the compelling reason is a U.S. Supreme Court ruling finding death sentences for juvenile offenders unconstitutional. He also said people under 18 are less responsible for their conduct than adults.
But Dietzen wrote that the Supreme Court's death penalty ruling also affirmed a sentence of life in prison without release for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.
Justices Alan Page and Paul Anderson disagreed with the majority opinion to affirm Martin's conviction and sentence, but neither commented on whether they disagreed with the ruling on sentences for juveniles.
In his written dissent, Page wrote that he would reverse Martin's conviction and order a new trial because of an issue with an African-American juror who was dismissed in the case. Martin argued that prosecutors challenged a juror in the case on the basis of race. Page said it appeared the juror was excluded "because of concerns that the juror might overcompensate and sympathize with the African-American defendant."
Dietzen said the district court's ruling on that matter was not "clearly erroneous."