Commonwealth v. Batts, 45 MAP 2016

Citation163 A.3d 410
Decision Date26 June 2017
Docket NumberNo. 45 MAP 2016,45 MAP 2016
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Qu'eed BATTS, Appellant
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

163 A.3d 410

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
Qu'eed BATTS, Appellant

No. 45 MAP 2016

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

ARGUED: December 7, 2016
DECIDED: June 26, 2017

Hugh J. Burns Jr., Esq., Terence Patrick Houck, Esq., Rebecca J. Kulik, Esq., John Michael Morganelli, Esq., for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellee.

Bradley Steven Bridge, Esq., Philip D. Lauer, Esq., Lauer & Sletvold, P.C., Marsha Levick, Esq. Juvenile Law Center, Alexander Owen Ward, Esq., Lauer & Fulmer, for Qu'Eed Batts, Appellant.

Sara A. Austin, Esq., Austin Law Firm, L.L.C., David R. Fine, Esq., James C. Sargent Jr., Esq., Lamb McErlane, PC, Thomas G. Wilkinson Jr., Esq., Cozen O'Connor, for Pennsylvania Bar Association, Amicus Curiae.

Peter David Goldberger, Esq., Law Office of Peter Goldberger, for Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Amicus Curiae.

Richard Walter Long, Esq., Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, for Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association, Amicus Curiae.

Kathryn Elizabeth Rimpfel, Esq., Baker & McKenzie, L.L.P., for Children's Advocacy Network and Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project, Amicus Curiae.

Angela C. Vigil, Esq., for Children's Advocacy Network and Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project, Amicus Curiae.




Qu'eed Batts ("Batts") was convicted of a first-degree murder that he committed when he was fourteen years old. His case returns for the second time on discretionary review for this Court to determine whether the sentencing court imposed an illegal sentence when it resentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. After careful review, we conclude, based on the findings made by the sentencing court and the evidence upon which it relied, that the sentence is illegal in light of Miller v. Alabama , 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012) (holding that a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, imposed upon a juvenile without consideration of the defendant's age and the attendant characteristics of youth, is prohibited under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution), and Montgomery v. Louisiana , ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 718, 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016) (holding that the Miller decision announced a new substantive rule of constitutional law that applies retroactively and clarifying the limited circumstances in which a life-without-parole sentence is permissible for a crime committed when the defendant was a juvenile).

Pursuant to our grant of allowance of appeal, we further conclude that to effectuate the mandate of Miller and Montgomery , procedural safeguards are required to ensure that life-without-parole sentences

163 A.3d 416

are meted out only to "the rarest of juvenile offenders" whose crimes reflect "permanent incorrigibility," "irreparable corruption" and "irretrievable depravity," as required by Miller and Montgomery. Thus, as fully developed in this Opinion, we recognize a presumption against the imposition of a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender. To rebut the presumption, the Commonwealth bears the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the juvenile offender is incapable of rehabilitation.

I. Facts

Although this Court generally does not provide an exhaustive recitation of an offender's history prior to the commission of the crime, as we explain in greater detail later in this Opinion, Miller requires the sentencing court to consider the details of a juvenile offender's background when determining if he or she is eligible for a sentence of life without parole. As such, we provide a lengthy account of Batts' life preceding his commission of the murder, based largely on the findings of fact made by the resentencing court that are supported by the record.

Batts was born prematurely on April 18, 1991 to a thirteen-year-old mother and seventeen-year-old father. A victim of his mother's neglect, Batts was shuffled around the foster care system from ages five through twelve. During that timeframe, he lived in eleven homes (as well as a homeless shelter for youth) located in nine cities and two states, and transferred schools eleven times (although there were stretches of several months that, because of his transiency, Batts did not attend school at all). He was exposed to physical violence by foster parents, subjected to physical violence by his peers, and on one occasion, was victimized sexually by an older cousin. At age eleven, while in the homeless shelter, he lost his virginity to a thirteen-year-old female resident. He frequently got into fights at school because children would tease him about his circumstances. Through it all, however, Batts performed well academically and excelled in several sports.

At some point during his childhood, Batts developed a relationship with his father, who was in and out of jail during Batts' formative years. That relationship abruptly ended, though, when Batts was eight, as his father was sentenced to twelve years of incarceration on federal drug charges and no visitation was provided. Around that same time, Batts briefly returned to the care of his mother, but he was removed again when she struck him in front of school officials and said she no longer wanted him.

According to Batts, he struggled with feelings of abandonment and rejection because of his familial circumstances. He desired only to live with his mother, but she failed to comply with the requirements for reunification established by the county agency. It was only once Batts' paternal grandfather, who had been his caregiver on and off over the years, expressed a desire to adopt him that Batts' mother finally completed the tasks required for her to regain custody of her son.

At the age of twelve, Batts returned to his mother's care in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. They resided in an apartment with his mother's boyfriend, Batts' younger sister, and eventually, a baby brother. Batts reportedly bonded with his mother and her boyfriend and was happy to be home. He attended Phillipsburg Middle School in the seventh grade, where he played football, but he began to decline academically and was suspended several times for fighting.

He became sexually active in the seventh and eighth grades, began drinking alcohol and experimented with smoking

163 A.3d 417

marijuana. It was at this time that he met Jerome Evans, an older teen who was a member of the Bloods gang. He told Batts that the gang was a family group that took care of each other, which Batts found enticing. Batts began associating with the gang when he was in middle school and sold drugs for them.

Batts and his family relocated across the river to Easton, Pennsylvania, but he continued to attend school in Phillipsburg, where he played basketball and football. In late December or early January of his ninth grade year, Batts was initiated into the Bloods by getting "jumped in"—a ritual that required him to fight five different gang members for thirty-six seconds each.

Batts' grades plummeted, prompting his mother to withdraw him from basketball. He argued with his mother about his failure to do his school work and began skipping school. On February 2, 2006, Batts went out in the evening and did not return home until 2:00 a.m. When he arrived home, his mother was angry and struck him. As a result, at the age of fourteen, Batts packed his clothes, left for school the morning of February 3 and never returned home. He stayed at his girlfriend's house and in the homes of other friends in both Easton and Phillipsburg. He stopped attending school.

On the night of February 7, 2006, Batts was in a vehicle with several members of the Bloods gang. Vernon Bradley, a senior member of the Bloods to whom Batts had recently been "assigned," was in the car talking about his desire to rob and kill someone. Bradley directed the driver of the vehicle to the 700 block of Spring Garden Street in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he saw Clarence Edwards and Corey Hilario outside. In the preceding days, Bradley told Batts on several occasions that he was going to kill Edwards. Batts was aware that Bradley had previously killed three other people.

Bradley instructed the driver to stop the vehicle. He asked Batts and the two other young teenagers in the back of the car who was going to put in "work." None of the passengers responded. The record reflects that Bradley then turned to Batts, handed him a gun and a mask, and told him to put on a glove and "put work in." Upon receiving that directive, Batts exited the car, walked up to the house and shot Clarence Edwards twice in the head, killing him, and shot Corey Hilario once in the back as Hilario fled into the house, causing him serious bodily injury. Edwards and Hilario were sixteen and eighteen years old, respectively. At the time of the shooting, Batts did not know either victim.

When Batts returned to the car, he gave the gun back to Bradley. Although Batts indicated that he felt nothing at the time he pulled the trigger, immediately after the shooting he stated that he regretted what he had...

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