Georgia’s highest court Monday threw out the life-without-parole sentence of a man convicted of murder in a gang-related crime spree.
Robert Veal was found guilty in the 2010 murder of Charles Boyer, who was gunned down during a robbery in Virginia Highland. He was also found guilty of raping a Grant Park woman during another robbery, among other crimes. At the time, Veal was only 17 and a half years old – legally, a juvenile.
While the Supreme Court of Georgia didn't reverse Veal's guilty verdicts, it did toss his sentence.
That's because just months before Veal was sentenced, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles who commit murder were unconstitutional. The justices left open the possibility that such sentences could still be imposed, but said they should be “uncommon.”
WABE Legal Analyst Page Pate said the Miller ruling was thought to have little effect on Georgia's courts, since the state doesn’t have a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for murder convictions.
“Our Supreme Court said as long as the trial judge at least entertains some argument or shows that it has considered the defendant's age, then it can impose a life-without-parole sentence,” Pate said.
But earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded on its Miller ruling in another case, Montgomery v. Louisiana, adding that sentencing juveniles to life without parole should only be applied in cases where the individual shows no capacity to reform.
“The Supreme Court has now made it clear that life without parole sentences may be constitutionally imposed only on the worst-of-the-worst juvenile murderers, much like the Supreme Court has long directed that the death penalty may be imposed only on the worst-of the-worst adult murderers,” wrote Georgia Supreme Court Justice David Nahmias.
Pate said it’s no longer enough for courts to just consider a juvenile's age when he or she faces murder charges.
“If you want to sentence a juvenile offender to life without the possibility of parole, there has to be a specific finding by the trial judge that this juvenile offender is one of the worst of the worst,” Pate said.
Veal's case now heads back to trial court for re-sentencing.