Montgomery v. Louisiana: Baby Steps toward a More Benevolent Juvenile Justice System
5 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2016
Date Written: February 1, 2016
In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court concluded that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment. Last week, three years after prohibiting mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Court held that the rule announced in Miller must apply retroactively. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Court determined that Miller’s prohibition on mandatory life sentences established a new substantive rule for constitutional rights. This recent ruling means that inmates currently serving mandatory life sentences for offenses they committed while they were children, and whose sentences were considered final at the time Miller was decided, will now have an opportunity for state courts to reconsider their original sentence or to argue for early release at a parole hearing. The Montgomery v. Louisiana decision is the most recent in a line of cases that spare juvenile offenders the harshest penalties our criminal justice system imposes, and vindicates the reasoning in Miller earlier cases that “children are different.” This Response, however, cautions that the decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana is only an incremental victory in what promises to be a long battle not only for those juvenile offenders now seeking their liberty, but also for criminal justice advocates seeking to ameliorate harsh punishments for juvenile in other contexts within the justice system. In Miller v. Alabama, the Court declined to issue a categorical ban on the practice of imposing life imprisonment without parole for juveniles, and notwithstanding the retroactivity of the rule in Miller, the decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana does not foreclose the possibility that some juvenile offenders will remain condemned to die in prison. This Response argues that in order to fully vindicate the principle that “children are different,” advocates should use the reasoning of these recent cases to push for greater limitations on the punishments our criminal justice system currently imposes upon juveniles.
Keywords: Miller v. Alabama, Montgomery v. Louisiana, Juvenile Offenders, Criminal Law, Criminal Justice, Juvenile Justice
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