Baird and Zulakis P.C., Attorneys at Law
Call for a Free Phone Consultation
Local 517-481-2680
Toll Free 800-385-0092
Main Menu
Practice Areas

Juvenile LWOP Sentences Again Under Supreme Court Consideration

In Miller v. Alabama, decided in 2012, the United States Supreme Court determined that mandatory life imprisonment without parole (LWOP) sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. Consistent with this opinion, states cannot require the automatic imposition of such a sentence for juveniles. Juvenile offenders may still receive LWOP, but only after individualized consideration of their character and youth. Michigan has since implemented MCL 769.25 to ensure that youth is appropriately considered when the prosecutor seeks the sentence of LWOP for a juvenile.

LWOP will no longer be automatically imposed on juveniles; however, what about offenders whose sentences were finalized prior to the Miller ruling? Because Miller was a case decided on collateral review rather than direct appeal, its ruling only applies retroactively to those offenders under certain limited circumstances. The Supreme Court did not indicate in 2012 whether Miller fell under any of these circumstances, and as a result, states have reached their own conclusions on the matter. Some states have offered resentencing hearings to these offenders, and other states--like Michigan--have refused to do so.

Considering the differing state responses on whether the Miller ruling does apply retroactively, the Supreme Court accepted an appeal from Louisiana this term to decide the issue: Montgomery v. Louisiana. Before deciding whether the Miller decision does apply retroactively, the Court must also decide whether it has the authority to hear the case. Montgomery is a collateral appeal from a state court, not a federal one, and it is unclear whether the state court utilized federal or state law in its decision. For more, see legal journalist Lyle Denniston's analysis of the issue here.

At the heart of the retroactivity question is whether Miller represented a change in the substantive law or a "watershed rule of criminal procedure"--if it did, it will apply retroactively under existing Supreme Court precedent. However, if Miller is a procedural rule that does not amount to a "watershed rule of criminal procedure," it will not apply retroactively. States courts have reached different conclusions about which of these two categories Miller fits. Primarily, the discord is over whether Miller categorically barred a type of penalty for a class of offenders or whether it simply altered state sentencing processes.

Outside of nuanced legal arguments, some simply argue that not applying Miller retroactively is unfair. At the time these offenders committed their crimes, they were under eighteen years old, lacking in high-level cognitive abilities and less able than adults to weigh the consequences of their actions. On the other hand, opponents argue that applying Miller retroactively would be unfair to the victims' families, who would be forced to relive the pain of the crime through a sentencing review.

Arguments on Montgomery were heard on October 13. A decision has not yet been released.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information
Listed In Best Lawyers - The world's Premier Guide Avvo Rating 10.0 Superb Top Attorney Criminal Defense Recommended by peers for leading lawyers network - the top lawyers This Attorney is Lead Counsel Rated. Click here for more Information.

Office Location

Baird and Zulakis P.C., Attorneys at Law
Eastbrook Plaza
4127 Okemos Road
Suite 4
Okemos, MI 48864

Fax: 517-349-5013
Map & Directions