U.S. Supreme Court allows Illinois ruling that held Miller retroactive to stand

The U.S. Supreme Court on December 1 let stand the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling in People v. Davis, which found that Miller v. Alabama applies retroactively. This means that approximately 80 people given mandatory sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole as children in Illinois will be immediately eligible for resentencing.

The state’s highest court found that a child cannot be sentenced to life without parole unless the sentencing includes an established process for considering the child’s age and other characteristics of youthfulness, such as mental development. The court ruled that Miller applies to everyone serving the sentence, regardless of when their sentence was given.

Miller found on June 25, 2012 that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment to impose an automatic sentence of life without parole for a crime committed by a person younger than 18. Illinois is one of nine states whose highest courts have ruled that Miller applies retroactively to everyone serving the sentence. Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, Nebraska and Wyoming are the other states. Four states – Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania — have ruled that Miller does not apply retroactively. Our hope is that the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually take up the issue of retroactivity and ensure that Miller is applied to ALL those currently serving mandatory life without parole for crimes committed as children. Where a child was sentenced should not determine whether he or she will die in prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined the case shortly after another positive development on this issue. The United Nations Committee Against Torture recently called for the U.S. to end the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without parole, regardless of the crime. The Committee also called for opportunities for people serving life without parole for crimes committed as children to “have their cases reviewed by a court for reassessment and resentencing, to restore parole eligibility and for a possible reduction of sentence.” The United States remains the only country in the world known to sentence children to life in prison without parole. Together, we will end this deplorable practice and ensure all children are given hope of release!

Read an amicus brief filed by formerly incarcerated youth, including Xavier McElrath-Bey, who now is youth justice advocate at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.