The Georgia Supreme Court yesterday struck down the life imprisonment without parole sentence imposed on 17-year-old Marcus Moore as part of an agreement to avoid the death penalty.
In December 2000, at age 17, Marcus Moore was indicted for two counts of malice murder and other crimes related to the fatal shootings of two young people. In January 2001, the State gave notice of its intent to seek the death penalty. Mr. Moore was found guilty and, prior to the sentencing phase, entered into an agreement in which he agreed to waive his rights to appeal in exchange for a sentence of life imprisonment without parole.
In 2005, the United States Supreme Court held in Roper v. Simmons that the Constitution bars imposition of the death penalty on juveniles under age 18 at the time of the crime. Based on this decision, in 2010 Mr. Moore filed a motion to correct void sentence, arguing that Georgia law at the time of his offense authorized a life-without-parole sentence only where the State could legally seek the death penalty, and because Roper removed the death penalty as a sentencing option for Mr. Moore, he became ineligible for a life-without-parole sentence.
The trial court denied Mr. Moore’s motion, finding that he had waived the right to challenge his sentence and even if he hadn’t, Roper did not apply to retroactively invalidate his sentence.
The Georgia Supreme Court reversed, finding first that Mr. Moore’s plea agreement did not waive or “bargain away” his right to challenge an illegal and void sentence.
Georgia law was clear in 2001 that the State could seek a life-without-parole sentence only in cases where the State could legally impose the death penalty, the court found.Roper applies retroactively to vacate death sentences imposed on juveniles and, the court wrote, “we find that when applied retroactively to the state sentencing scheme in place at the time of Moore’s sentencing, it rendered Moore ineligible to receive a sentence of death.”
Because the State could not seek death, Mr. Moore could not legally be sentenced to life without parole under Georgia law.
The court held that Mr. Moore’s life-without-parole sentence is void as a sentence not allowed by law and remanded the case to the trial court to enter a legal sentence.