RALEIGH — A 1970s life sentence for a North Carolina teenager for second-degree burglary is not cruel or unusual punishment, meaning he’ll remain behind bars, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
In a split decision, a three-judge panel reversed a 2012 ruling by Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks that reduced Larry C. Stubbs’ sentence to 30 years and ordered him released from prison. State attorneys appealed the lower court ruling.
Stubbs, now 58, has remained in prison during the appeal and for most of the last 40 years for a crime committed at age 17.
State law at the time of his case allowed for possible parole after 10 years, although Court of Appeals Judge Wanda Bryant wrote it was unclear how often he had applied for release. Stubbs was paroled in 2008. But he returned to prison when his conviction for driving while impaired in 2010 revoked his parole, the court said.
Stubbs maintained he would have received a roughly 2½-year prison term for second-degree burglary under more recent sentencing laws, the opinion said.
In case law, sentences for juveniles who commit non-homicide crimes that allow for an opportunity to be released before the end of a life term do not violate the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, Bryant wrote. The state constitution has a somewhat similar prohibition.
“It should be stated that by all accounts based on today’s sentencing standards, defendant’s sentence cannot be viewed as anything but severe,” Bryant wrote, but it “is not cruel or unusual in the constitutional sense.”
Judge Chris Dillon wrote a separate opinion agreeing with Bryant. Judge Linda Stephens wrote a dissenting opinion, arguing that the Court of Appeals lacked the jurisdiction to review the state’s arguments opposing the trial judge’s order. The 2-1 decision can be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Stubbs was arrested for breaking into a Fayetteville house in May 1973 and taking items valued at $394, the opinion said. He was originally charged with first-degree burglary and felony larceny, and was later charged with rape, but he ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary and assault with intent to commit rape, according to the opinion.