State v. Anderson




Washington Supreme Court

Citation and Year

516 P.3d 1213 (2022)

Constitutional Provision or State Statute

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

Nature of Case

Tonelli Anderson received a 61-year sentence for crimes committed at the age of 17. On appeal, he argued that the Washington Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Haag announced a bright line rule that no youth offender can ever receive a sentence of 46 years or longer, because Haag said that in Washington all youth LWOP is prohibited and such a sentence amounts to de facto LWOP.


In a 5-4 ruling, the court held that the rule it announced in State v. Haag, which banned all de facto LWOP sentences for youth under age 18, applies only to youth whose crimes “reflect youthful immaturity, impetuosity, or failure to appreciate risks and consequences.” Under this standard, it upheld Anderson’s 61-year sentence.


The majority tried to distinguish Haag based on the severity of Anderson’s offenses, and said Haag’s protections do not reach people like Anderson, who, according to the majority, committed crimes that “do not reflect youth immaturity, impetuosity, or failure to appreciate risks and consequences.” Instead, the sentencing court had found that “the facts of this case demonstrate [Anderson’s] actions were calculated and premeditated, and that he fully understood the consequences of his actions.” Given such findings, the majority permitted what the court previously held to be an unconstitutional de facto life without parole sentence.

Notable Dissents / Concurrences

In dissent, Chief Justice Steve Gonalez wrote that the “majority rewrites our jurisprudence to profoundly limit the protection we have found our state constitution gives to children.” Both he and Justice Mary Yu emphasized the issue of race, noting that Haag involved a white appellant while Tonelli Anderson is Black.

Gonzalez wrote: “All too often we have decided that some disfavored group is not due the full protections our founding documents’ promise. We have shrugged our robed shoulders at cruelties embodied in law. We know that trial judges in our own state are more likely to sentence harshly in election years. So it was with the usually Black or brown children, like Tonelli Anderson, who were demonized by the war on crime social panic, racialized fears, and discredited science. ‘The superpredator theory tapped into and amplified racial stereotypes that date back to the founding of our nation.’ State v. Belcher, 342 Conn. 1, 17, 268 A.3d 616 (2022). Under its influence, all too many Black and brown children were explicitly or tacitly classified as ‘juvenile superpredators’ and treated as irredeemable monsters.”

Yu wrote: “There can be no doubt that ‘adultification is real and can lead to harsher sentences for children of color if care is not taken to consciously avoid biased outcomes.’ Miller, 21 Wn. App. 2d at 267. The majority today fails to take such care, leading to a harsh result for a former juvenile offender who is Black, which is irreconcilable with more lenient results obtained by former juvenile offenders who are white.”