July 18, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Juvenile Offender’s Sentence Not Functional Equivalent of Life Without Possibility of Parole

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Lehmkuhl on Thursday, June 20, 2013.

Juvenile Prosecuted as Adult—Sentence—Cruel and Unusual Punishment—Constitutional—Eight Amendment—Parole—Mitigating Factors.

Defendant Jordan Lehmkuhl appealed the district court’s order denying his Crim.P. 35(c) motion challenging, on cruel and unusual punishment grounds, the constitutionality of sentences he received in connection with acts committed while he was a juvenile. The order was affirmed.

In October 2001, Lehmkuhl, who was then 17 years old, broke into a house where three high school girls were staying. While brandishing a gun, he bound the girls’ hands with duct tape, put a blanket over their heads, and rummaged around the house. He then took one of the girls out of the house, placed her in the trunk of a car, and, after driving the car for some distance, sexually assaulted her in the backseat of the car. Lehmkuhl was prosecuted as an adult, convicted, and sentenced to consecutive terms totaling seventy-six years to life imprisonment.

On appeal, Lehmkuhl contended that his sentence constituted unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment because it does not provide him with a meaningful opportunity of being paroled within his lifetime. The Eighth Amendment categorically prohibits sentencing a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide crime to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Here, the record indicates that Lehmkuhl will become eligible for parole in 2050, when he is 67 years old. Pursuant to CRS § 13-25-103’s mortality table, Lehmkuhl’s life expectancy is 78.2 years. Therefore, Lehmkuhl would have a meaningful opportunity for release during his natural lifetime because his life expectancy exceeds his date of parole eligibility. Accordingly, Lehmkuhl’s sentence was not a de facto life without parole sentence.

Lehmkuhl next contended that in sentencing him, the district court did not properly consider his age and other mitigating factors. The record here, however, reflects that the district court considered Lehmkuhl’s youth, as well as several other mitigating factors, including his lack of a criminal record and reputation in the community. Thus, the record shows that the court afforded Lehmkuhl the individualized sentencing determination to which he claims he was entitled.

Summary and full case available here.

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