U.S. Supreme Court to hear Miller retroactivity case

On March 23, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Montgomery v. Louisiana, which is expected to clarify whether the Miller v. Alabama decision should be applied retroactively. A retroactive decision in Montgomery could allow thousands of individuals currently serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed as children an opportunity for resentencing and a second chance at life.

The petitioner in this case, Henry Montgomery, was sentenced to life without parole for a crime that occurred in 1963, two weeks after his 17th birthday. He has been in prison for more than 50 years.

In June 2012, Miller abolished mandatory life-without-parole sentences for youth. Not all states have applied the ruling retroactively, which has led to inconsistent treatment of individuals from state to state.  To date, the high courts of 10 states have ruled that Miller applies retroactively to everyone serving the sentence. Those states are Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming. Four state supreme courts — including Louisiana, where Mr. Montgomery is serving — have ruled thatMiller does not apply retroactively. Louisiana also is among the five states that have sentenced the majority of the approximately 2,500 people who were sentenced to life without parole as children.

This is the second case concerning Miller retroactivity the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear this year.  In the first, Toca vLouisiana, the petitioner, George Toca, had been sentenced to mandatory life without parole for allegedly shooting his friend during a botched robbery at the age of 17. After the Court agreed to hear the case, prosecutors offered Mr. Toca a plea agreement, which vacated his murder conviction. He accepted the agreement and was released from prison in January.

It is vital that the U.S. Supreme Court resolve the question of Miller retroactivity to ensure that all individuals serving life without parole are afforded equal treatment under the law.  We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will further uphold the principle that children are different and that all children sentenced to die in prison deserve a second chance.

Read the petition in Montgomery v. Louisiana

Read more about the case


Photo by Roland Meinecke