Prior to 2005, offenders who were over the age of 16 at the time that their crimes were committed could be sentenced receive the death penalty (Stanford v. Kentucky (1989)). But in Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for a youth under 18 years old at the time of his or her crime to receive a death sentence. This landmark case eliminated capital punishment for juveniles, but still be allowed for sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
However, in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that sentencing a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole for a non-homicidal crime is in violation of the Eighth Amendment. 560 U.S. 48 (2010). This decision requires that states give juveniles a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” Then in 2012, deciding Miller v. Alabama, the Court held that juveniles mandatory life without parole sentences violate the Eighth Amendment. 132 S.Ct 2455 (2012). This ruling requires a judge to take into consideration the age of the offender before sentencing him or her to life without parole.
The ruling in Miller ruling affected mandatory sentencing laws in 28 states and the federal government. States applied the law inconsistently until 2016, when the Supreme Court settled the matter in Montgomery v. Louisiana. 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). In the case, the Court determine that Miller had established a substantive rule because it prohibited the imposition of a sentence of life without parole for juvenile offenders and that rule should be applied retroactively to all juveniles serving mandatory life without parole sentences.
“Trial Defense Guidelines: Representing a Child Client Facing a Possible Life Sentence” by the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (2015)
Abstract: The objective of these guidelines is to set forth a national standard of practice to ensure zealous, constitutionally effective representation for all juveniles facing a possible life sentence (“juvenile life”) consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 2469 (2012) that trial proceedings “take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing [children] to a lifetime in prison.” The representation of children in adult court facing a possible life sentence is a highly specialized area of legal practice, therefore these guidelines address the unique considerations specific to the provision of a zealous trial defense. These guidelines set forth the roles and responsibilities of the defense team for the duration of a trial proceeding and outline child-specific considerations relevant to pre-trial, trial, and sentencing representation. Direct appeal and collateral review are not explicitly addressed in these guidelines. Read the full guide.
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
In this 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for crimes committed while the convicted was under the age of 18. In Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989), the Court had previously upheld death sentences for offenders above or at the age of 16; in effect, the decision in Roper v. Simmons overturned state statutes in 25 states. Read the full opinion.
Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010)
The U.S. Supreme Court extended its decision in Roper v. Simmons to include juvenile offenders sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for non-homicide offenses. The Court held that such sentences violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment. Read the full opinion.
Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012)
In this 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court extended its decision in Graham. The Court held that it is cruel and unusual punishment to sentence juveniles convicted of murder to life without the possibility of parole.. Read the full opinion.
Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016)
In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that its ruling in Miller should be applied retroactively. This ruling has the potential to affect up to 2,3000 cases across the country. Read the full opinion.
ARTICLES AND PAPERS
“Prospects for Developmental Evidence in Juvenile Sentencing Based on Miller v. Alabama“ by Thomas Grisso and Antoinette Kavanaugh, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law (2016)
Abstract: Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions barred mandatory life without parole for juvenile homicide (Miller v. Alabama, 2012) and applied Miller retroactively (Montgomery v. Louisiana, 2016). Miller identified several developmental factors to consider in mitigation, but left many questions unanswered about their application. The authors offer several sentencing contexts to frame the types of developmental and clinical evidence that may be relevant for Miller hearings under various circumstances. Within these contexts, they explore types and sources of relevant developmental evidence and raise questions about quality and limitations. Their analysis identifies areas in which appellate court clarification is needed to determine how developmental evidence will be used in Miller cases, and they alert developmental experts to prospects and cautions for providing relevant evidence, as well as areas in need of research. Read the full article.
“Protecting America’s Children: Why an Executive Order Banning Juvenile Solitary Confinement Is Not Enough” by Carina Muir, Pepperdine Law Review (2016)
Abstract: Despite its devastating psychological, physical, and developmental effects on juveniles, solitary confinement is used in juvenile correctional facilities across the United States. This Comment posits that such treatment violates the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It likewise argues that that President Obama’s recent Executive Order banning juvenile solitary confinement is simply not a powerful enough remedy and discusses why it must be paired with Congressional legislation or Supreme Court jurisprudence if it is to have any lasting effect. Read the full article.
“The True Legacy of Atkins and Roper: The Unreliability Principle, Mentally Ill Defendants, and the Death Penalty’s Unraveling” by Scott E. Sundby, University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-5 (2014)
In striking down the death penalty for intellectually disabled and juvenile defendants, Atkins v. Virginia and Roper v. Simmons have been understandably heralded as important holdings under the Court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence that has found the death penalty “disproportional” for certain types of defendants and crimes. This Article argues, however, that the cases have a far more revolutionary reach than their conventional understanding. In both cases the Court went one step beyond its usual two-step analysis of assessing whether imposing the death penalty violated “evolving standards of decency.” This extra step looked at why even though intellectual disability and youth were powerful mitigators, juries were not able to reliably use them in their decision making. The Court thus articulated expressly for the first time what this Article calls the “unreliability principle:” if too great a risk exists that constitutionally protected mitigation cannot be reliably assessed, the unreliability means that the death penalty cannot be constitutionally imposed. In recognizing the unreliability principle, the Court has called into serious question the death penalty for other offenders to whom the principle applies, such as mentally ill defendants. And, unlike with the “evolving standards” analysis, the unreliability principle does not depend on whether a national consensus exists against the practice. This Article identifies the six Atkins–Roper factors that bring the unreliability principle into play and shows why they make application of the death penalty to mentally ill defendants unconstitutional. The principle, which finds its constitutional home in the cases of Woodson v. North Carolina and Lockett v. Ohio, has profound implications for the death penalty, and if taken to its logical endpoint calls into question the Court’s core premise since Furman v. Georgia, that by providing individualized consideration of a defendant and his crime, the death penalty decision will be free of arbitrariness. Read the full paper.
“Accepting Miller ’s Invitation: Conducting a Capital-Style Mitigation Investigation in Juvenile- Life-Without-Parole Cases” by Betsy Wilson and Amanda Myers, The Champion (2014)
In this article, the authors discuss how to conduct a capital-style mitigation investigation in juvenile life-without-parole cases, especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama. Read the full article.
“Retaining a Forensic Mental Health Expert in Miller Cases” by Antoinette Kavanaugh, The Champion (2014)
In this article, the authors discuss how to retain a mental health expert for the purposes of a Miller re-sentencing hearing. Topics include the types of forensic mental health experts; preparation for clinicians, defendants, and the defendant’s family for clinical evaluation; and the factors that defense attorneys and clinicians must consider for Miller evaluations. Read the full article.