In the Wake of Miller v. Alabama, States Should Rethink How to Hold Youthful Offenders Accountable

Many states are scrambling to figure out how to comply with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children are cruel and unusual punishments. The best advice is simple: slow down and take advantage of this opportunity to rethink how you should hold youth accountable for serious crimes. The June ruling struck down all statutes that require a child to be sentenced to die in prison. In doing so, the Court reaffirmed its recent holdings that require children to be treated differently in the justice system. People now serving mandatory life sentences without parole for crimes committed as youth are due resentencing hearings, which must take into account mitigating factors such as their age at the time of the crime, family history, role in the crime, and other relevant factors.

States React with Hearings, Orders on U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Juvenile Life Sentences

Just after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated some 2,400 life sentences given to juveniles nationwide, Iowa’s governor responded with commuting the 38 cases in his state to minimum 60-year sentences. The response was different in Pennsylvania, where the state Legislature is speeding to comply with the court’s Miller v. Alabama order for judicial discretion. “First degree murder is an intentional and premeditated crime and those who are found guilty are dangerous and should be kept off the streets and out of our communities,” reads a statement by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, issued Jul. 18. It came with his Executive Order commuting mandatory life without parole sentences handed to 38 Iowa juveniles to 60 mandatory years then a possibility of parole.

High Court Ruling on Juvenile Life Without Parole Could Impact Many

Hundreds of people like Alabama’s Evan Miller are newly-eligible to appear in front of sentencing judges and perhaps parole boards, as the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down certain life sentences without parole that were handed out to juvenile offenders. As a drug-addicted, abused, neglected minor in and out of foster care, 14-year-old Miller and a friend, killed his mother’s drug dealer in 2003 after an evening of sharing drink and drugs. Under a mandatory sentencing law that ignores mitigating factors, Alabama sent Miller to prison for life without the chance of parole. But now minors like Miller must be allowed to present mitigating circumstances and the sentencing judge or jury must pay attention, the court ruled on July 25 in Miller v. Alabama. “Its kind of a new procedure that I think is going to be imposed in some jurisdictions,” said Richard Broughton, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Detroit’s Mercy School of Law.

Justices’ Ruling on Young Killers Eases Anxieties for Some Experts, Advocates

By Eric Ferkenhoff and Maggie Lee

The violence that stains Chicago is a long way from Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday it was not just to lock up juvenile killers for life without parole in most cases. The court, reasoning children should not face what amounts to death behind bars, voted 5-4. Monday’s decision had been anticipated since arguments were heard in March on two cases out of Alabama and Arkansas dealing with 14-year-old convicts, and won the applause of children’s and rights advocates and scorn from those who believe punishment should be equal to the crime. “I’m feeling very good, hopeful,” said Julie Anderson, 55, whose son was convicted of murder at 15 in 1995. “We’ll see how it plays out, but my son defintely qualifiies under this ruling to have his sentence looked at again.”

She added: “And there’s so many of them, these people who were only children.

Supreme Court Forbids Mandatory Life Sentences Without Parole for Juveniles

UPDATED Tuesday, 9:23 a.m.: WASHINGTON – Advocates for juvenile justice reform applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 5-to-4 ruling yesterday that children under 18 could not be handed life imprisonment sentences without hope of release – even if convicted of murder – without taking into account their age and other extenuating circumstances at the time of the crime. “Held: The Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders,” read the majority opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan, which combined the court’s ruling on two cases, Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, sharply disagreeing that such sentences constituted cruel and unusual punishment for what were “heinous” crimes to society. “Put simply, if a 17-year-old is convicted of deliberately murdering an innocent victim, it is not ‘unusual’ for the murderer to receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole,” Roberts wrote. Kagan responded in a footnote to her opinion that she finds it ironic that the dissenters are holding a 14-year-old’s actions to the same standard as a 17-year-old’s, given that the main finding of the majority is that courts must take individual circumstances into account before deciding on a sentence.

BREAKING: Supreme Court Strikes Down Juvenile Mandatory LWOP

Updated: 12:07 p.m. In a 5-4 decision issued Monday morning, the Supreme Court ruled the Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory sentences of life without possibility of parole for juveniles (JLWOP). The decision stems from two cases—Jackson v Hobbs and Miller v Alabama—involving 14-year-olds convicted of murder and sentenced to mandatory life terms.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the majority opinion, holding that mandatory JLWOP violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, citing as precedent Roper v Simmons. “That right ‘flows from the basic “precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned,” to both the offender and the offense,’ ” Kagan wrote. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the dissenting opinion.