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January 25, 2016

Does SCOTUS ruling in Montgomery actually minimize likelihood of full constitutional ban on juve LWOP sentences?

The question in the title of this post is my first "now what" thought concerning the Supreme Court's ruling today in Montgomery v. Louisiana, No. 14–280 (S. Ct. Jan. 25, 2016) (available here), and the future of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence.  It was prompted in part by the first post-Montgomery e-mail I received:  it stressed that juvenile justice advocates have "urged the Court to rule that JLWOP is unconstitutional in all cases [and now] two cases with petitions for certiorari currently pending, Houston v. Utah and Jacobs v. Louisiana, ask the Court to invalidate JLWOP in all cases."

For a host of reasons, I am pleased that a majority of Justices in Montgomery concluded that the Eight Amendment rule announced in Miller precluding the mandatory imposition of life without parole to juvenile murderers is to be applied retroactively to all cases.  But the fact that the Justices reached this result by calling Miller substantive, and especially the fact that Chief Justice Roberts joined the Court's opinion in Montgomery, leads me to think we might not see the Justices show interest in even considering a categorical ban on all juve LWOP sentences for some time.

Of course, I am just reading broad Eighth Amendment tea leaves here (and doing so even before I have had a chance to read Montgomery closely).  Of course, the five Justices who made up the Graham and Miller majorities could on their own, without the Chief Justice along for the ride, decide to extend their Eighth Amendment jurisprudence to create a categorical bar on all juve LWOP sentences.  But this five-some of Justices had their chance to reach such a result in the original Miller case and amici urged the Court to use Montgomery as another chance to do the same.  The fact that the Supreme Court has now twice resisted extending Graham to all juvenile crimes, and especially now that the Justices have ensured (with the help of the Chief Justice) that no juve offenders will ever be subject to LWOP without a sentencing judge deciding such a sentence was truly justified, leads me to predict that it may now be quite a while before the Justices consider seriously a categorical ban on all juve LWOP sentences as a constitutional mandate.

Prior related post on Montgomery:

January 25, 2016 at 11:49 AM | Permalink


Maybe Montgomery doesn't ban LWOP for children, but it has at least two parts that make it clear that Miller restricts discretionary LWOP. It holds:

"Miller required that sentencing courts consider a child’s 'diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change' before condemning him or her to die in prison."

"Even if a court considers a child’s age before sentencing him or her to a lifetime in prison, that sentence still violates the Eighth Amendment for a child whose crime reflects ‘unfortunate yet transient immaturity.’”

Both provisions highlight substantive restrictions on any LWOP sentence for a child.

Posted by: Stephen Hardwick | Jan 25, 2016 2:34:46 PM

"After Miller, it will be the rare juvenile offender who can receive that same sentence. The only difference between Roper and Graham, on the one hand, and Miller, on the other hand, is that Miller drew a line between children whose crimes reflect transient immaturity and those rare children whose crimes reflect irreparable corruption."

So now we have a Constitutional standard for a judgment call in sentencing, and THAT is what makes this thing substantive? Good grief.

"The hearing does not replace but rather gives effect to Miller’s substantive holding that life without parole is an excessive sentence for children whose crimes reflect transient immaturity."

Yep, and all the people who were promised that they wouldn't go through parole hearings for these "children", many of whom committed monstrous crimes . . . . well, I guess they can suck a lemon. The Court traffics in silliness for what, a few thousand killers? Bravo.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 25, 2016 6:17:13 PM

"substantive restrictions"---with no judiciable standards. A real piece of work . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Jan 26, 2016 10:06:46 AM

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