Case Summary: Jones v. Mississippi

In Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), the Supreme Court held that a person who commits a homicide when he or she is under 18 may not be mandatorily sentenced to life without parole; the sentencing judge must have discretion to impose a lesser punishment. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. 190 (2016), the Court held that Miller applies retroactively. When Montgomery was decided, I wondered (here) whether it did more than merely address Miller’s retroactive application. Language in the case indicated that a sentence of life without parole would be constitutionally permissible for only the most the most troubling young defendants—“those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.” Id. at 209. In Jones v. Mississippi, 593 U.S. ___ (2021), decided last week, the Court made clear that the Constitution does not require a sentencer to make a separate factual finding of permanent incorrigibility before sentencing a defendant to life without parole.

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United States Supreme Court Rejects Another Challenge to Another Method of Lethal Injection But Leaves the Door Open to Future Litigation

The Supreme Court decided Bucklew v. Precythe today, rejecting a death row inmate’s challenge to Missouri’s single-drug execution protocol. Challenges to lethal injection are now 0-for-3 in the Supreme Court, but the Court did not foreclose future litigation. To the contrary, it left the door open to further challenges, and so did nothing to break up the litigation logjam that has resulted in a de facto moratorium on executions in North Carolina.

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An Update on Life with and without Parole for Young Defendants

In Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), the Supreme Court held that a sentencing regime that makes life without parole mandatory for a murder committed by a defendant under the age of 18 is unconstitutional. The rule applies retroactively. Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. __, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016). North Carolina amended its statutes to comply with the ruling in 2012, enacting G.S. 15A-1340.19A through -1340.19D to create an option to sentence certain young defendants to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Today’s post considers where we are after a half-decade under the new regime.

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Miller v. Alabama Applies Retroactively (and Then Some?)

The Supreme Court held Monday that the rule from Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. __ (2012), applies retroactively. In Miller, the Court held that a sentencing regime that makes life without parole mandatory for a murder committed by a defendant under the age of 18 is cruel and unusual punishment. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. __ (2016), the Court said that rule likewise applies to defendants whose cases were final before Miller was decided on June 25, 2012.

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Resentencing on Eighth Amendment Grounds

Some inmates are serving long sentences for older crimes that would receive a much shorter sentence under today’s law. It is clear at this point that they cannot have today’s law applied to them retroactively, as Jessie discussed in this prior post. That’s true for inmates who received longer sentences under Fair Sentencing, State v. … Read more

Intellectual Disability, IQ Scores, and the Death Penalty

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court decided Hall v. Florida, a case about the death penalty and intellectual disability. It’s an important case with implications for North Carolina. Background. In Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), the Court prohibited the imposition of the death penalty on mentally retarded defendants. The Court indicated that it … Read more


Miller Retroactivity: Where Are We?

Almost two years after the United States Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama, the question of whether the case applies retroactively to convictions that became final before it was decided continues to be a thorny one for the nation’s courts. Miller held that under the Eighth Amendment a sentencing scheme that mandates life without parole … Read more

Double Bond

Last session, the General Assembly added a new subsection to the principal pretrial release statute, G.S. 15A-534. The new provision took effect on December 1, 2013, and has proven to be extremely frustrating to magistrates. It also raises some legal issues. The provision states: When conditions of pretrial release are being determined for a defendant … Read more

Miller v. Alabama

Most people were disappointed that the Supreme Court did not release the health care ruling on Monday. I, on the other hand, was excited to read Miller v. Alabama, a case with important sentencing ramifications for many states, including North Carolina. In Miller, the Court held 5–4 that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme … Read more

Graham v. Florida

The Supreme Court of the United States issued two noteworthy opinions yesterday. In United States v. Comstock (a case that originated out of North Carolina) the Court reversed the Fourth Circuit and upheld the federal government’s power to civilly commit a mentally ill, sexually dangerous federal prisoner beyond the date he would otherwise be released … Read more