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February 3, 2017

Lamenting that Henry Montgomery (and many other juve LWOPers) may not much or any benefit from Montgomery

Jody Kent Lavy, who is executive director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Children, has this notable new commentary headlined "Supreme Court's will on juvenile offenders thwarted." Here are excerpts:

A little more than a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Montgomery vs. Louisiana that Henry Montgomery — and anyone else who received mandatory life without parole for a crime committed when they were younger than 18 — was serving an unconstitutional sentence and deserved relief.

The sweeping opinion augmented three earlier decisions that had scaled back the ability to impose harsh adult penalties on youth, recognizing children’s unique characteristics made such penalties cruel and unusual. The Montgomery case made clear that the Eighth Amendment bars the imposition of life without parole on youth in virtually every instance.

But, in violation of the decision, prosecutors are seeking to re-impose life without parole in hundreds of cases, and judges are imposing the sentence anew. Hundreds of people serving these unconstitutional sentences — primarily in Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Michigan — are still awaiting their opportunities for resentencing. Henry Montgomery is among them.

I recently met Montgomery, now 70, at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, notorious as a place where most of its thousands of prisoners are destined to die. Montgomery, who is African-American, was convicted of killing a white police officer as a teenager. At the time, John F. Kennedy was president. Though his resentencing has yet to be scheduled, prosecutors say they plan to again seek life without parole.

Given last year’s ruling from the nation’s highest court, it might seem surprising that Montgomery, remorseful for the crime he committed more than five decades ago, is still languishing in prison. This is indeed outrageous, and it highlights the failings of our justice system, especially as it pertains to juveniles....

Henry Montgomery is living on borrowed time. He is a frail, soft-spoken, generous man. When it was lunchtime at the prison, I noticed that he wasn’t eating. When I asked why, he said he wasn’t sure there was enough food to go around. On the anniversary of the ruling that was supposed to bring him a chance of release, we owe it to Montgomery, as well as the thousands of others sentenced as youth to die in prison, to seek mercy on his behalf. We cannot give up until the day comes when children are never sentenced to life — and death — in prison.

February 3, 2017 at 12:41 PM | Permalink


The states have every right to resist this joke of a decision.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 3, 2017 12:49:40 PM

I have long wondered the net value of some of these opinions. For instance, judges vs. juries deciding facts in various cases: important constitutional principle, perhaps, but how does it break down in actual benefits for defendants.

Anyway, something like this one is likely to be more prospective -- including given there are ways to delay full application -- though even a few years can matter to someone who otherwise might die in prison.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 3, 2017 1:08:48 PM

Sometimes I wonder what the hell in wrong with prosecutors in states like Louisiana. Why in the world would anyone object to releasing a 70-year-old who has been in prison for 50 years, committed his crime when he was under 18, is remorseful, and is pretty clearly not a threat to society. Is there any explanation other than racism -- or possibly sadism? Can someone explain this to this Northerner? Seems way out of a reasonable bounds of punishment philosophy.

Posted by: Mark | Feb 3, 2017 6:02:06 PM

"The Montgomery case made clear that the Eighth Amendment bars the imposition of life without parole on youth in virtually every instance."

I read the Eighth Amendment. I could not find any such bar. The bar came from the subjective feelings of the Justices.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 3, 2017 6:13:45 PM

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