Pennsylvania v. Felder (majority)Annotate this Case
In 2009, when he was seventeen-and-a-half years old, appellant Michael Felder was playing in a pick-up basketball game with Andrew Williams at an outdoor court in Philadelphia. The pair were matched against brothers Jarrett and Malcolm Green. Appellant’s style of play became aggressive; an argument ensued after Williams refused to hand the ball over to the Greens. Appellant walked to the sideline and removed a .380 semiautomatic handgun from his gym bag, and shot Malcolm in the head before shooting Jarrett in the stomach and leg. A jury convicted appellant of first-degree murder and aggravated assault. Pursuant to the then-applicable mandatory sentence for first-degree murder, which also applied to juveniles, appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Superior Court vacated appellant’s judgment of sentence two years later; by then, Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012) and Commonwealth v. Batts, 66 A.3d 286 (Pa. 2013) (“Batts I”) had been decided. Since appellant’s judgment of sentence was not yet final, the Superior Court determined he was entitled to the benefit of those rulings and to consideration of the Miller factors before being resentenced, and remanded the case for such proceedings. Upon remand, the court imposed a discretionary 50-years-to-life sentence for appellant’s first-degree murder conviction. On appeal to the Superior Court, appellant challenged the legality of his sentence, arguing “a 50-year minimum sentence is a de facto life sentence.” The Superior Court found that although the sentence precluded appellant from seeking parole until he was 68 years old, it was constitutional because it “was the result of an individualized and discretionary sentencing hearing[.]” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review limited to whether appellant's sentence was indeed a de facto life sentence requiring the sentencing court under Commonwealth v. Batts, 163 A.3d 410 (Pa. 2017) (“Batts II”), "[to] first find permanent incorrigibility, irreparable corruption or irretrievable depravity beyond a reasonable doubt." The Supreme Court determined Jones v. Mississippi, 141 S.Ct. 1307 (2021) "abrogates our foundational understanding in Batts II." So long as the sentence imposed is discretionary and takes into account the offender’s youth, even if it amounts to a de facto life sentence, Miller is not violated. "Because the sentencing court in the present case followed this procedure, we affirm."