State v. Haag




Washington Supreme Court

Citation and Year

495 P.3d 241 (2021)

Constitutional Provision or State Statute

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

Nature of Case

In 1965, Timothy Haag was sentenced to mandatory life without parole for a crime he committed at the age of 17. In 2018, a re-sentencing court found that “Haag is not irretrievably depraved nor irreparably corrupt,” and re-sentenced him to a term of 46 years to life, meaning Haag would be 63 years old at the earliest possible release date. On appeal, Haag argued that his lengthy term of years sentence amounted to de facto life without parole and therefore — consistent with the Washington Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling barring all youth LWOP under the state constitution — is constitutionally invalid.


A 46-year minimum term amounts to de facto life without parole and is therefore barred by the Washington Constitution’s ban on “cruel punishment.” A year later, though, a divided Washington Supreme Court narrowed this holding in State v. Anderson, explaining (illogically, as the dissents pointed out) that Haag stands only for the proposition that Washington’s Constitution bars de facto LWOP sentences only for those youth whose crimes “reflect youthful immaturity, impetuosity, or failure to appreciate risks and consequences.”


The court’s holding turned on two related findings: First, the re-sentencing court had improperly emphasized retribution over the mitigating qualities of youth, as prohibited by Miller v. Alabama. The court rejected the premise that Miller allows complete discretion when sentencing youth; instead, courts must prioritize the goal of rehabilitation. Second, the court said that “46 years to life amounts to a de facto life sentence for a juvenile offender because it leaves the incarcerated individual without a meaningful life outside of prison.”