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.
One of the last public events I attended before the pandemic upended life as we knew it were oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court. The week I was there turned out to be the last week of in-person oral arguments before arguments first were postponed and later resumed by teleconference. The Supreme Court took the long view of this interruption, noting that it was not unprecedented as the court had postponed arguments in October 1918 because of the Spanish flu epidemic and in 1793 and 1798 because of yellow fever outbreaks. Notwithstanding the change in procedures, the work of the high court — like the work of our state courts — continues. That work includes review in several criminal cases during its 2020 term.
Listed below are the principal criminal law cases currently before the Court, with a link to the docket entry for each case, followed by the Questions Presented. If telephonic oral argument has been held, the entry includes a link to the transcript of that argument.
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.
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.