- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the life without parole prison sentence of a man who was a juvenile when he was convicted of attempted capital murder.

Under the ruling on the sentence given to Steven Wayne Bramlett, the case now goes back to a Jefferson County circuit court.

The 54-year-old Bramlett was 17 years old when he committed the crime. According to court records, prosecutors in Pope County filed a handful of charges against Bramlett including rape, kidnapping, robbery and attempted capital murder when he was arrested in 1979.

He pleaded guilty to attempted capital murder and the other charges were dropped. He was sentenced at the plea hearing to life in prison without parole.

A circuit court judge granted the state’s request for a summary judgement in 2012, denying Bramlett’s request to have his sentence converted to a term of years. According to court records, the circuit court asserted that Bramlett’s intent was to commit homicide and that the only thing that stopped the crime from reaching that level was “poor aim.”

“Should a person who intends to kill, acts upon that intention but is a poor shot be held less culpable than one who intends to kill, acts upon that intention but is a good shot?” the circuit court judge wrote in 2012.

The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with Bramlett’s argument that the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited life without parole sentences for juveniles who are convicted of a crime that is not a homicide. The opinion Thursday cited case law and definitions that require “the act to result in the death of a human being” to be defined as a homicide, regardless of intent.

“I think he had really strong case law in his corner,” said Laurent Sacharoff, a criminal law professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. “Bramlett’s relief request remains the same, which is simply to be resentenced to a term of years, and depending on lower end of that sentence, he could be eligible for parole if that is granted.”

A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose office argued the case on behalf of the state, said she is still deciding whether to file a request for a re-hearing. If that request is not made or is not granted by the court, the case will be remanded back to circuit court for scheduling in 18 days.

Bramlett argued in his 2012 brief that Arkansas law allows parole eligibility for juveniles who have served 15 years of a non-life sentence. The law was changed in the 2013 legislative session, but was not applied retroactively.

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