Bear Cloud v. State, 334 P.3d 132 (Wyo. 2014) – Juvenile defendant (age 16 at time of crimes) was convicted by guilty plea of first-degree murder, aggravated burglary, and conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary. He was sentenced to “life according to law” (murder), 20-25 years (aggravated burglary), and 20-25 years (conspiracy), to be served consecutively. The case was eventually remanded for an individualized resentencing hearing after Miller, which resulted in a sentence with the earliest possibility for parole being just over 45 years, when Bear Cloud is 61 years old. Bear Cloud appealed.
The Supreme Court of Wyoming held that the teachings of Roper, Graham, and Miller require sentencing courts to provide an individualized sentencing hearing to weigh the factors for determining a juvenile’s diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform before imposing an aggregate sentence that is the functional equivalent of life without parole. “To do otherwise would be to ignore the reality that lengthy aggregate sentences have the effect of mandating that a juvenile die in prison even if a judge or jury would have thought that his youth and its attendant characteristics, along with the nature of his crime, made a lesser sentence . . . more appropriate.” (internal quotation marks omitted). Such a sentence, the court reasoned, means a denial of hope and that good behavior and character improvement are immaterial. That is exactly the result that Miller held was unconstitutional.
On remand, “the district court should weigh the entire sentencing package, and in doing so it must consider the practical result of lengthy consecutive sentences, in light of the mitigating factors of youth.” (internal quotation marks omitted). “Mr. Bear Cloud may be among those who commit truly horrifying crimes as juveniles who turn out to be irredeemable, and thus deserving of incarceration for the duration of their lives. However, appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.” (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “The United States Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence requires that a process be followed before we make the judgment that juvenile offenders never will be fit to reenter society. That process must be applied to the entire sentencing package, when the sentence is [life without parole], or when aggregate sentences result in the functional equivalent of [life without parole].” (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Reversed and remanded for resentencing on all counts.