« AG Eric Holder officially says federal prosecutors should no longer require defendants to "waive their right to bring future claims of ineffective assistance of counsel" | Main | Will Eric Holder still be Attorney General well into 2015? »

October 15, 2014

"Elevating Substance Over Procedure: The Retroactivity of Miller v. Alabama Under Teague v. Lane"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Brandon Buskey and Daniel Korobkin now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This Article proposes a framework establishing that the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, which forbids states from automatically sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment without any meaningful opportunity for release, must apply retroactively to hundreds of juveniles whose convictions and life sentences were already final at the time of the decision.  Such a framework is timely and critical. Although the lower state and federal courts are almost evenly divided on the question, the Supreme Court has yet to settle the divide.

The Article reviews how, absent guidance from the Supreme Court, a host of states, led recently by Michigan, have invoked the Miller majority’s statement that it was merely requiring states to follow a "certain process" before sentencing a juvenile to life imprisonment without parole.  By this reasoning, Miller is not retroactive under the Supreme Court’s federal retroactivity doctrine established by Teague v. Lane.  The Court has always applied new substantive rules retroactively under Teague, while it has never done so for a new procedural rule.

The Article rejects this "process" language as a basis for resolving whether Miller is retroactivity.  It concludes that Miller in fact has little to do with process and is instead primarily concerned with sentencing outcomes for youth.  In striking down mandatory life without parole for juveniles, Miller adapted the individualized sentencing requirement from Woodson v. North Carolina, which invalidated the mandatory death penalty.  This individualized sentencing requirement obligates states to always offer juveniles a sentencing outcome carrying the possibility of release and to consider the essential, mitigating fact of youth before imposing an irrevocable life sentence.  These obligations are inherently substantive. By contrast, Miller’s alleged procedural component is undefined and collateral to its substantive altering of juvenile sentencing. Miller therefore announces a substantive rule that must apply retroactively.

October 15, 2014 at 04:32 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Elevating Substance Over Procedure: The Retroactivity of Miller v. Alabama Under Teague v. Lane":


There's no better way to see the bias in academia then to see article after article claiming that Miller is retroactive despite the plain language of Miller to the contrary. Since Miller left open LWOP for juveniles but merely banned the automatic imposition of the punishment it is most clearly procedural as a matter of logic.

Posted by: Capt. Obvious | Oct 15, 2014 7:21:52 PM

Well, since currently 8 state supreme courts (counting Texas' criminal court of last resort) have found retroactivity (over 4 who have found otherwise), clearly the academics have support in the real world. Miller did more than "merely ban" the automatic imposition of LWOP -- it requires sentencing options other than life, and where life is still a possibility, requires individualized sentencing of the juvenile defendant. Under Schriro, that demonstrates that the change is substantive.

Posted by: Tricia | Oct 16, 2014 9:35:55 AM

I presume you're referring to Summerlin, which said:

"A rule is substantive rather than procedural if it alters the range of conduct or the class of persons that the law punishes. See Bousley, supra, at 620—621 (rule “hold[s] that a … statute does not reach certain conduct” or “make[s] conduct criminal”); Saffle, supra, at 495 (rule “decriminalize[s] a class of conduct [or] prohibit[s] the imposition of … punishment on a particular class of persons”). In contrast, rules that regulate only the manner of determining the defendant’s culpability are procedural."

Seems pretty straight forward to me.

Posted by: Capt. Obvious | Oct 16, 2014 11:02:41 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB