The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday said Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis was correct when she denied a petition by a prison inmate who said he should be re-sentenced because of a life sentence he was given as a juvenile.
John Lohbauer was 15 years old in 1977 when he was charged with capital murder in the death of a Texarkana Police officer and injures to a second that were committed during a burglary.
At that time, the only punishment for capital murder was life in prison without the possibility or parole or death by lethal injection. In a deal worked out with prosecutors, he entered a plea of guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree murder, and to charges of first-degree battery and burglary. He was sentenced to life plus 40 years in prison.
In 2016, Lohbauer appealed his sentence contending that the life sentence violated the Eighth Amendment because he was a juvenile when the offenses occurred. Dennis denied the appeal, ruling that while the U.S. Supreme Court has held that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles was unconstitutional, a sentence for first-degree murder at the time of the offense was either a term of years in prison or life, and the life sentence Lohbauer received was not mandatory.
In his argument, Lohbauer contended that his sentence of life was in fact mandatory because he was required to accept it to avoid the possibility of capital punishment.
Last year, the Arkansas General Assembly adopted the Fair Sentencing of Minors Act which provides that persons who were under the age of 18 when they were convicted of first-degree murder shall be eligible for parole when they have served a minimum of 25 years in prison.
That provision makes no distinction between life sentences that are mandatory and those that are discretionary, as was the case with Lohbauer.
Although he was convicted in Miller County, Lohbauer is serving his sentence in Jefferson County which is why the appeal went to Judge Dennis.