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February 9, 2014

Nebraska Supreme Court gives Miller retroactive impact with new statutory law

As reported in this local article, headlined "Nebraska Supreme Court ruling could affect 27 teen murder cases," late last week the Nebraska Supreme Court resolved how the SCOTUS Eighth Amendment ruling in Miller concerning juve LWOP sentences would be applied in the Cornhusker State. Here are the details:

The Nebraska Supreme Court issued precedent-­setting decisions Friday that gave hope to 27 prison inmates serving life terms for murders they committed as juveniles.  Nebraska's high court ruled that three Omaha men who were convicted when teenagers were unconstitutionally sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  While the Supreme Court upheld their murder convictions, it ordered that all three be given new sentences....

The three inmates will return to Douglas County District Court to be resentenced under a law passed last year that allows sentences from 40 years to life.  The new law also requires judges to consider factors that could mitigate the youth's responsibility....

Although the Nebraska court ruled largely in favor of the inmates on the constitutional issues, it rejected arguments that sought to remove life as an option during resentencing. Nor was the court in unanimous agreement on all of the issues involving juvenile killers.  In a dissent, two of the judges said the U.S. Supreme Court's decision should not apply to inmates who long ago lost their direct appeals....

Nebraska has 27 inmates serving life for homicides committed when they were younger than 18.  The oldest is Luigi Grayer, 58, who was 15 in 1970 when he killed an Omaha woman....

Assistant Attorney General James Smith argued that Nebraska's sentencing law didn't violate the Miller ruling because the juveniles were sentenced to life in prison, not life “without parole.”  Under Nebraska's system, such inmates would have to get their sentences reduced to a term of years by the Nebraska Board of Pardons before earning parole. Having to first win executive clemency is not the same as parole, the high court ruled, rejecting the state's argument.  In other words, a life sentence effectively means life without parole....

The second pivotal question before the court was whether the Miller decision applied to inmates whose convictions had already been upheld on appeal.  Because the high court found that the Miller ruling resulted in a “substantive” change to how juvenile killers must be sentenced, it found that the ruling applied retroactively to Mantich.  The Nebraska judges quoted from an opinion of the Iowa Supreme Court, which also determined that juvenile killers should get new hearings.

Via How Appealing, here is additional coverage of these rulings and links to the decisions:

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that "Nebraska high court vacates life sentences of 3 men" [and] the Supreme Court of Nebraska  three decisions applying the U.S. Supreme Court's 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama  [are] herehere, and here.

February 9, 2014 at 11:47 PM | Permalink

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