Supreme Court Rules that Juveniles Must Have Chance to Challenge Life Sentences

Justice Reform 01.25,16

The Supreme Court ruled Monday in the case of Montgomery v. Louisiana that anyone sentenced to life imprisonment for murder as a juvenile must have a chance to argue for parole.

In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court held that its 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama—which banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles—must be applied retroactively. This will allow thousands of people sentenced to life imprisonment as juveniles the opportunity to have their case reviewed, and a chance at early release.

The Court’s decision in Montgomery continues a trend of the Court holding that punishments for crimes for youths under 18 must be different and less severe than adults who commit the same kind of crimes. Progress on juvenile sentencing has been made outside of the judiciary as well. Since the Miller decision in 2012, the number of states that ban life-without-parole sentences for juveniles has tripled.

Montgomery was brought on behalf of Henry Montgomery, who is serving a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for a crime he committed when he was 17. Montgomery is now 69 and has spent more than 50 years in prison.

“The opportunity for release will be afforded to those who demonstrate the truth of Miller’s central intuition—that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, in writing for the majority. “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.”