Supreme Court Retroactively Bans Juvenile Life Sentences
The 6-3 decision could apply to more than a thousand individuals.
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In a 6-3 decision on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that a 2012 decision banning life-without-parole sentences for juvenile homicide offenses should retroactively apply to older cases as well—even those involving people who were convicted as minors more than 50 years ago.
The case before the Court concerned Henry Montgomery, who was sentenced to an automatic life sentence in Louisiana after killing a police officer in 1963, when he was 17 years old. Justice Anthony Kennedy led the majority ruling, writing that “permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole” would be enough.
According to BuzzFeed, some states decided the 2012 Miller v. Alabama decision applied retroactively, while others—like Louisiana, the site of Montgomery’s case—decided it did not. The new ruling will apply to more than 1,000 individuals, most prominently in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, which are the three states with the largest number of juvenile homicide offenders.
“Miller’s conclusion that the sentence of life without parole is disproportionate for the vast majority of juvenile offenders raises a grave risk that many are being held in violation of the Constitution,” Kennedy wrote.
He added that “children are constitutionally different” and “prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.”
On the same day, President Obama announced an executive action to ban solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons, reports The Washington Post. He also drastically reduced the maximum solitary confinement punishment for a first offense from 365 days to 60 days for all offenders, which would affect around 10,000 inmates serving their sentences in isolation.