The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that two mandatory life sentences with the possibility of release handed down to a 15-year-old in Ramsey County District Court in 1992 are constitutional.
Kim Thul Ouk, now 37, filed a motion with the district court in 2013 challenging his sentences, based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision the year before that said sentencing juveniles to mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments.
Ouk’s motion was denied by the court, which held that the U.S. Supreme Court’s findings in Miller vs. Alabama did not apply to cases retroactively. He then appealed to the state Supreme Court in hopes of being resentenced based on the Miller ruling.
But the state high court denied his appeal in a decision issued Wednesday, saying that “a statutory scheme mandating a sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of release is materially different from a statutory scheme mandating a sentence in life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.”
Ouk was convicted in 1992 of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder stemming from an armed robbery. In addition to the life prison terms, he was given two 15-year sentences.
Because he had no previous convictions for serious crimes, he could be sentenced to life terms with the possibility of release after 30 years, according to the high court decision. Given the possibility of release, the court concluded that the Miller case didn’t pertain to Ouk’s circumstances.
Ouk and seven other teenagers stole three cars and robbed two gas stations across the street from each other in the Highland Park neighborhood June 8, 1992, according to court documents.
The teens split into two groups and robbed the gas stations, killing two clerks and injuring two customers at the Total Mart station. Ouk was later arrested, admitting to stealing cigarettes from Total Mart but denying that he shot anyone.
Mahdi Ali, who was 16 when he killed three men during a robbery at Minneapolis’ Seward Market in 2010, also has brought his case to the state high court. He was sentenced in Hennepin County District Court to two consecutive life sentences and a consecutive life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Ali appealed earlier this month. A decision in his case has not been issued.