Commonwealth v. Derek Lee

The petitioner in this case, Derek Lee, is challenging the mandatory imposition of a life sentence with no possibility of parole following his conviction for felony-murder, as unconstitutional. This case is a criminal appeal in Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Despite never taking or intending to take a life, Lee has been condemned to die in prison. Lee is one of over 1,000 people mandatorily sentenced to life-without-parole for a felony-murder conviction in Pennsylvania. Both the number of people serving this punishment and the manner in which it is imposed makes Pennsylvania an extreme outlier in the United States and globally.

Pennsylvania is one of only two U.S. states that mandate life-without-parole sentences for people convicted of felony-murder irrespective of whether they killed or intended to kill, and notwithstanding their level of involvement in the felony. It is a punishment which does not match the culpability attendant to the offense, and is excessive in relation to every legitimate penological purpose. It does not promote public safety and disproportionately impacts Black Pennsylvanians.

As jurisprudential and practical standards governing the imposition of life-without-parole punishments have evolved, Pennsylvania’s imposition of this punishment has not. In keeping with the Commonwealth’s and this Court’s tradition of assessing proportionate punishments and evaluating the protections afforded by Pennsylvania’s Constitution, Lee’s Petition presents an opportunity to remedy the injustice wrought by his permanent exclusion from society.