Washington v. Bassett (Majority and Dissent)Annotate this Case
When Brian Bassett was 16 years old, he was living in a "shack" with Nicholaus McDonald after Bassett's parents '"kicked [him] out'" of their home. With McDonald's assistance, Bassett snuck back into his home and shot his mother and father. His brother was drowned in the bathtub, an act that McDonald initially confessed to but later blamed on Bassett at trial. Bassett was convicted of three counts of aggravated first degree murder for the deaths of his mother, father, and brother. The judge commented that Bassett was "a walking advertisement" for the death penalty and sentenced him to three consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole. At issue here was the constitutionality of sentencing juvenile offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole or early release. The State appealed a Court of Appeals decision holding that the provision of Washington's Miller-fix statute that allows 16- and 17-year-olds to be sentenced to life without parole violated the Washington Constitution's ban on cruel punishment. The appellate court adopted the categorical approach, rather than Washington's traditional Fain proportionality test, and found that sentencing juvenile offenders to life without parole or early release constituted cruel punishment. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision and held that sentencing juvenile offenders to life without parole or early release constitutes cruel punishment and therefore is unconstitutional under article I, section 14 of the Washington Constitution.