State v. Ramos, 387 P.3d 650 (2017), as amended (Feb. 22, 2017), reconsideration denied (Feb. 23, 2017) – Defendant, age 14 at the time of the crimes, pleaded guilty to one count of first degree premeditated murder and three counts of first degree felony murder. Defendant was sentenced, pre-Miller, to four aggregate terms of 240 months’ imprisonment, for a total of 960 months (80 years). Thirteen years later, defendant appealed. On appeal, which was treated as timely, the case was remanded for resentencing to reconsider the community placement term of Ramos’s sentence. At resentencing, Ramos requested an exceptional sentence with respect to his term of incarceration, seeking a sentence below the standard range. The resentencing court believed that it did not have authority to consider such a sentencing request. Defendant again appealed, and the court of appeals concluded that the sentencing court abused its discretion in determining that it did not have the authority to consider defendant’s arguments for an exception sentence. The case was then remanded, again, for a second resentencing. At this second resentencing proceeding, defendant presented evidence and argument supporting an exceptional sentence below the standard range, asking, in particular, for the three felony murder convictions to run concurrently. The state opposed the exceptional sentence, but it acknowledged the court’s authority to impose a different sentence, including an exceptional sentence downward. The resentencing court denied defendant’s request for an exceptional sentence and, instead, imposed a sentence near the bottom of the standard range: 20-year sentences for each of the three felony murder convictions, and a 25-year sentence for the premeditated murder, all to run consecutively for a total of 85 years. Defendant appealed, arguing principally that his 85-year sentence constituted an effective LWOP sentence imposed in violation of Miller. The Court of Appeals affirmed the sentence, reasoning that Miller does not apply to de facto LWOP sentences resulting from aggregate consecutive sentences for multiple homicides. On review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part.
The court first considered the state’s Sentencing Reform Act of 1981 (“SRA”), a statute requiring imposition of consecutive sentences for a person convicted of two or more serious, violent offenses arising from separate and distinct criminal conduct. (Pursuant to the statute, a person facing such a sentence may prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that substantial and compelling reasons justify an exceptional sentence below the standard range, which may reduce the sentence by a term of years or result in concurrent, rather than consecutive, sentences.) Assessing the statute’s constitutionality under Miller, the court determined that “while not every juvenile homicide offender is automatically entitled to an exceptional sentence below the standard range, every juvenile offender facing a literal or de facto life-without-parole sentence is automatically entitled to a Miller hearing.” It emphasized that Miller “clearly” applies to “any juvenile offender who might be sentenced to die in prison without a meaningful opportunity to gain early release based on demonstrated rehabilitation,” whether a sentence for a single crime or an aggregated sentence for multiple crimes.
Ultimately, however, the court concluded that defendant’s second resentencing proceeding met the federal constitutional requirements under Miller and, therefore, the de facto life sentence imposed thereafter did not run afoul of the Eighth Amendment. Affirmed.