In re Pers. Restraint of Monschke




Washington Supreme Court

Citation and Year

482 P.3d 276 (2021)

Constitutional Provision or State Statute

WASH. CONST. art. I, § 14 (“nor cruel punishment inflicted”)

Nature of Case

Dwayne Earl Bartholomew and Kurtis William Monschke each received a mandatory, non-discretionary life without parole sentence for crimes committed at age 20 and 19, respectively. They challenged their sentences as unconstitutionally “cruel,” arguing that the same rights to individualized, discretionary sentencing that apply to youth under 18 must apply to people up to age 21, at least.


The Washington Constitution’s ban on “cruel punishment” prohibits mandatory life without parole (aka “death in prison”) sentences for anyone under age 21.


In Miller v. Alabama, decided in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the 8th Amendment prohibits mandatory life without parole sentences for anyone under age 18. The Court reasoned that youth are fundamentally different from adults for purposes of criminal punishment, in particular because, as established brain science shows, youth are inherently less culpable and have a greater capacity to grow and change. The Court also noted a growing consensus against levying the harshest punishments against youth, and noted its previous holding banning all youth LWOP for non-homicide offenses.

In Monschke, the Washington Supreme Court reaffirmed that Washington’s antipunishment clause provides greater rights protection than the 8th Amendment, and found that the same evidence and rationale for banning mandatory youth LWOP applies with the same force to anyone up to age 20, at least: “Modern social science, our precedent, and a long history of arbitrary line drawing have all shown that no clear line exists between childhood and adulthood. For some purposes, we defer to the legislature’s decisions as to who constitutes an “adult.” But when it comes to mandatory LWOP sentences, Miller’s constitutional guarantee of an individualized sentence — one that considers the mitigating qualities of youth — must apply to defendants at least as old as [20].”