Miller v. Alabama and the Problem of Prediction

38 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2019 Last revised: 14 Oct 2019

See all articles by Mary Marshall

Mary Marshall

Columbia University, Law School, Students

Date Written: March 2, 2019


Beginning in 2010, the Supreme Court severely limited states’ ability to impose juvenile life without parole sentences. In a seminal case, Miller v. Alabama, the Court banned mandatory life without the possibility of parole sentences for juveniles and declared that only those juveniles that are “irreparably corrupt” should be made to spend the rest of their lives in prison. While Miller has been the subject of much scholarly debate, there has yet to be any discussion of a core instability at the center of Miller’s mandate: By limiting life without parole sentences only to those juveniles who are “irreparably corrupt” the Court is asking sentencers to predict whether a juvenile will be a danger decades down the road and after a long prison sentence. This Note uses legal and social science literature around the impossibility of long-term predictions about juvenile development to argue that the requirement of prediction in Miller prevents just application of the decision and argues that this instability should lead to a ban on juvenile life without parole sentences.

Keywords: juvenile justice, juvenile life without parole, criminal law, criminal law and neuroscience, predictive sentencing, Miller v. Alabama, law and neuroscience, child development, sentencing guidelines

Suggested Citation

Marshall, Mary, Miller v. Alabama and the Problem of Prediction (March 2, 2019). 119 Colum. L. Rev. 1633 (2019), Available at SSRN: or

Mary Marshall (Contact Author)

Columbia University, Law School, Students ( email )

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New York, NY 10025
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