SCOTUS Could Shorten Sentences for Juveniles in Prison for Life

By Kenrya Rankin Oct 13, 2015

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that could shorten the sentences of juvenile offenders who have been sentenced to life in prison for murder. 

Back in 2012, SCOTUS ruled in Miller v. Alabama that state laws that mandate automatic life sentences without the possibility for parole for juveniles tried as adults and convicted of murder are unconstitutional. The high court found that failing to take a suspect’s age and the nature of their crime constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The current case, Montgomery v. Louisiana, will decide whether the Miller rule should apply to cases that have already been tried. NPR reports if the court decides the ruling applies retroactively, it could make parole possible for about 2,100 people.

The question is before the court because Henry Montgomery, a now-70-year-old man who was convicted in Louisiana for murdering a deputy sheriff as a teenager, wants a new sentencing hearing. As a result of the 2012 decision, Louisiana now allows for possible parole after serving 35 years. If it is applied retroactively, Montgomery would be eligible for a parole hearing. But Louisiana’s courts have ruled that it does not, arguing that it would be too time consuming and expensive to hold new sentencing hearings and that it would be difficult to reconnect with witnesses and attorneys who were involved the first time around.

The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth reports that black children make up 30 percent of young people who are arrested and 62 percent of those prosecuted as adults. And they are nine times more likely than their white peers to receive an adult prison sentence.

The Supreme Court will make a decision later in the term.