The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that mandatory life without parole sentences are unconstitutional for juveniles under the age of 18 in the case Miller v. Alabama. This decision, along with the companion case Jackson v. Hobbs, comes on the heels of the 2008 decision in Graham v. Florida that forbid such a sentence for a non-homicide offense.
Mandatory sentences are available in 28 states and under Federal law, making a life-without-parole term mandatory for juveniles convicted of offenses in adult court without any consideration of the age of the offender, or other mitigating circumstances. Speaking for the majority, Justice Kagan wrote “mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age its hallmark features- among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.”
The Supreme Court did not completely ban the possibility of juvenile life without parole, stating “although we do not foreclose a sentencer’s ability to make that judgment in homicide cases, we require it to take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.” Despite this, the majority noted that “we think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.”
The procedures for bringing re-sentencing appeals post-Miller will be state specific. Please contact an attorney in your state for more information.
Some state specific legal resources are available here.
To determine if your state has mandatory sentencing, click here.
Read the full Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs opinion here.