Layw Thomas was 17 years old when he was indicted in Bullitt County, Kentucky and pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery, first & second-degree assault, and wanton endangerment. He also entered an Alford Plea to murder in exchange for a recommended sentence of 20 years.

In his plea deal, a Hammer clause was included: If Layw failed to appear at sentencing, the Commonwealth could modify the sentence to be the maximum allowed by the law. Despite this, Thomas did not appear for his original final sentencing. When he did appear for sentencing, he was sentenced to life and 50 years, to run consecutively.

At his sentencing, the trial court decided that Thomas was not eligible for probation due to the nature of his crimes, which placed him in the “Violent Offender” category of the Kentucky Revised Statues. Those categorized a violent offenders are not eligible for probation or parole. Upon this sentence, Thomas filed a motion with the trial court requesting relief. That motion was denied, resulting in an appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Person in handcuffs for blog post entitled, Should juvenile offenders who have been classified as “violent offenders” still be eligible for probation or parole? Eric Ray, Criminal Defense Attorney, Lexington, Kentucky

The Kentucky Supreme Court agreed with Thomas that the trial court made an incorrect decision by failing to consider probation or parole before sentencing him to prison, a violation of the Kentucky Juvenile Code, which states that the standard for determining probation or parole eligibility is different when the defendant committed the crimes before reaching the age of maturity. In this case, Thomas committed his crimes when he was 17, but pleaded guilty when he was 19. The Kentucky Supreme Court held that the violent offender statute does not apply to youthful offenders, even if they have reached the age of maturity at the time of sentencing. The case was therefore sent back to the trial court for resentencing.

Cases like this illustrate the importance of being representated by a lawyer who understands the law, in this case the Kentucky Juvenile Code. In factd, it’s imperative in any criminal matter involving a juvenile. The Supreme Court of Kentucky stated, “It appears that the trial court and counsel for both sides—who failed to raise the issue before the trial court—erroneously assumed Thomas was ineligible for probation.”

As a criminal defense attorney, I know that making assumptions about the law is dangerous and not in the best interests of my clients. A defense attorney must put in the time and effort to ensure they know the law and don’t have to assume anything about it.

If you are, or if your child or another family member is, charged with a crime and want a strong advocate to fight for you and your rights, contact our office. We’ll fight to prove your innocence, but in the event there is a conviction, we’ll make sure justice is served and that your legal rights are protected.