USSC Review 4 Juvenile Lifers
Finally, our nation’s large population of under age juveniles (now grown men and most well into middle age) who were once sentenced to life in prison – some younger than 13 years old – for the most serious capital offenses , may now hope for relief through newly decided judicial review of their status as Juvenile Lifers. The US out ranks all other developed nations in the numbers of prison inmates serving out life sentences behind bars for crimes committed when these inmates were then young, underage juveniles. Three years ago, Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juvenile offenders to to life in prison amounts to clear violation of the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution. The 8th Amendment prohibits our courts from imposing a sentences that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. By virtue of this landmark holding, the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller all but ended our nation’s shameful practice of locking away children for life, no matter the crime.
The Miller court brought judicial acceptance of and recognition to the scientific and societal norm of what is self-evident to many: juveniles do not posses anything close to the brain development, conduct control, maturity of judgment or the appreciation of their conduct, as do grown adults. It was, after all, for this reason well over 100 hundred years ago, Chicago lead the nation by establishing the first Juvenile Court; separate and apart from the regular court of criminal prosecution and punishment. Despite this, following the decision many states have fixed on a very limited reading of Miller. Ruling that the decision is procedural only and does not apply retroactively to any juvenile lifer whose sentence came before Miller was decided. In contrast, however, many other states take the opposite view and allow for renewed judicial of their prisons’ pre-Miller inmates.
Maryland’s OPD, joined by attorneys, law firms and the ABA have challenged the “procedural” only rational imposed by the opposing states who refuse to apply any retroactive review of those prisoners sentenced to life based the Miller holding. And so next month, in Montgomery v. Louisiana the Supreme Court will once again revisit its earlier decision and hold oral argument, hearing from both sides – for and against retroactivity – and then this term, decide whether Juvenile Lifers may yet hope for relief from the courts.