Significant Case Law from courts nationwide

Following Graham, Miller, and Montgomery, there has been extensive litigation on juvenile sentencing issues around the country. Below, we highlight significant decisions from state courts and lower federal courts nationwide.

The cases below are organized into the following issue areas:

 

 

Ban on life without parole for all juveniles

Several state courts have prohibited life-without-parole sentences for all juveniles under their state constitutions.

 

 

 

State v. Sweet

The Iowa Supreme Court prohibited life-without-parole sentences for all juveniles under the state constitution.

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State v. Bassett

A Washington appellate court has held that the re-imposition of a life-without-parole sentence at a Miller resentencing proceeding, pursuant to the state’s Miller “fix” statute, violates the state’s constitutional provision against cruel and unusual punishment.

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Application of Miller to Discretionary life without parole sentences

Montgomery and Miller impact all life-without-parole sentences imposed on children—not just those imposed in mandatory regimes. Indeed, most life-without-parole sentences imposed on children in discretionary regimes prior to Montgomery must now be revisited.

Montgomery establishes that it is not enough for a sentencer to simply discretionarily consider a child’s chronological youth in selecting a sentence. Instead, when a child faces the possibility of a life-without-parole sentence, the sentencer must actually give mitigating effect to the characteristics of youth described in Graham and Miller. A life-without-parole sentence may not be imposed on a child convicted of homicide unless the sentencer makes a determination—after giving mitigating effect to the characteristics and circumstances of youth—that the particular child “exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible.”

We highlight here several cases addressing this topic.

Commonwealth v. Batts

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court confirmed that Miller applies to discretionary life-without-parole sentences, concluding that there is a presumption against the imposition of juvenile life without parole that may be overcome only if a court determines, based on competent evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt, that a juvenile is “entirely unable to change.”

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People v. Holman

The Illinois Supreme Court concluded that Miller and Montgomery apply to discretionary life-without-parole sentences, and that a juvenile offender may be sentenced to life without parole only if the trial court determines after consideration of youth that the defendant’s conduct showed irretrievable depravity, permanent incorrigibility, or irreparable corruption.

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Windom v. State

The Idaho Supreme Court concluded that a discretionary fixed-life sentence violated Miller and Montgomery where the sentencing court heard no evidence of the mitigating factors of youth and made only brief, general reference to the defendant’s age at sentencing.

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State v. Riley

Connecticut Supreme Court held that juvenile offender sentenced to 100 years in discretionary regime entitled to resentencing because sentencing court did not give “due mitigating weight” to the characteristics and circumstances of youth.

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McGee v. State

Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals determined that Miller and Montgomery apply to discretionary as well as mandatory life-without-parole sentences and that before sentencing a defendant to life without parole, the sentencer must determine whether the crime reflects only transient immaturity or whether this is the rare case in which the crime reflects irreparable corruption.

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Landrum v. State

Florida Supreme Court held juvenile offender sentenced to life without parole in discretionary regime entitled to resentencing because the sentencing court did not consider whether the crime reflected irreparable corruption.

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State v. Valencia (State v. Healer)

Arizona Supreme Court held that Miller and Montgomery entitle juvenile offender serving discretionary LWOP sentence to resentencing if the defendant establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that his or her crime did not reflect irreparably corruption but instead transient immaturity such that a natural life sentence is unconstitutional.

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Veal v. State

Georgia Supreme Court concluded that juvenile offender sentenced to life without parole in discretionary regime entitled to resentencing because sentencing court did not make a determination that he was “irreparably corrupt.”

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State v. Long

Ohio Supreme Court concluded that Eighth Amendment requires trial courts to consider youth as a mitigating factor before imposing discretionary LWOP sentence on juveniles for homicide offenses

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Aiken v. Byars

South Carolina Supreme Court held that Miller applies to both mandatory and discretionary LWOP sentences and reversed and remanded 15 cases in which juvenile offenders received discretionary LWOP sentences.

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Irreparable Corruption Finding Required

In Montgomery v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that a juvenile cannot be sentenced to life without parole absent a forward-looking determination that the particular child “exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible.” 136 S. Ct. 718, 733 (2016). Thus, courts across the country have begun to acknowledge that a juvenile homicide offender may not be exposed to a life-without-parole sentence absent a properly informed determination of irreparable corruption. We highlight some of these cases below.

Montgomery and Miller impact all life-without-parole sentences imposed on children—not just those imposed in mandatory regimes. Indeed, most life-without-parole sentences imposed on children in discretionary regimes prior to Montgomery must now be revisited.

Montgomery establishes that it is not enough for a sentencer to simply discretionarily consider a child’s chronological youth in selecting a sentence. Instead, when a child faces the possibility of a life-without-parole sentence, the sentencer must actually give mitigating effect to the characteristics of youth described in Graham and Miller. A life-without-parole sentence may not be imposed on a child convicted of homicide unless the sentencer makes a determination—after giving mitigating effect to the characteristics and circumstances of youth—that the particular child “exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible.”

We highlight here several cases addressing this topic.

People v. Holman

The Illinois Supreme Court held that a juvenile offender may be sentenced to life without parole only if the trial court determines after consideration of youth that the defendant’s conduct showed irretrievable depravity, permanent incorrigibility, or irreparable corruption.

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Commonwealth v. Batts

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that there is a presumption against the imposition of JLWOP, and this presumption may be overcome only if a court determines, based on competent evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt, that a juvenile is “entirely unable to change.”

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McGee v. State

Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals determined that Miller and Montgomery apply to discretionary as well as mandatory life-without-parole sentences and that before sentencing a defendant to life without parole, the sentencer must determine whether the crime reflects only transient immaturity or whether this is the rare case in which the crime reflects irreparable corruption.

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State v. Montgomery

On remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Louisiana Supreme Court has remanded a mandatory LWOP sentence for resentencing, stating that the resentencing court was to determine whether the defendant was “the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption” or whether he would be eligible for parole.

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Landrum v. State

Florida Supreme Court held juvenile offender sentenced to life without parole in discretionary regime entitled to resentencing because the sentencing court did not consider whether the crime reflected irreparable corruption.

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Veal v. State

Georgia Supreme Court concluded that juvenile offender sentenced to life without parole in discretionary regime entitled to resentencing because sentencing court did not make a determination that he was “irreparably corrupt.”

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People v. Gutierrez (People v. Moffett)

California Supreme Court has remanded cases where juvenile offenders received discretionary LWOP, explaining that, at resentencing, LWOP should not be “the presumptive sentencing choice” and that the ultimate question will be whether the defendants can be deemed irreparably corrupt notwithstanding the diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform that ordinarily distinguish juveniles from adults.

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Sen v. State

Wyoming Supreme Court remanded a mandatory LWOP sentence for an individualized resentencing hearing, requiring, inter alia, that “in exercising its discretion with regard to a determination as to parole eligibility, the district court . . . set forth specific findings supporting the distinction between ‘the juvenile offender whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity and the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.’”

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Application of Graham and Miller to Lengthy and Aggregate Term-of-Year Sentences

State supreme courts across the country have concluded that sentences may violate the Eighth Amendment even if they are not technically labeled “life without parole.”  The relevant inquiry is whether the sentence provides a realistic and meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. A sentence that fails to provide an opportunity for release at a meaningful point in time in an individual’s life violates the Eighth Amendment, regardless of whether the sentence is labeled life without parole, life with parole, or a term of years (with or without parole eligibility.)  Moreover, numerous courts have extended the protections of Graham and Miller to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed for multiple crimes, reasoning that the inquiry is offender-focused, not crime-focused, and thus that the sentence should be analyzed in its entirety.

Below are some cases addressing this topic.

State v. Ramos

The Washington Supreme Court applied Miller to an 80-year aggregate sentence, explaining that Miller applies anytime a juvenile offender might be sentenced to die in prison without a meaningful opportunity for early release based on rehabilitation, whether the sentence is for a single crime or an aggregate sentence for multiple crimes.

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People v. Caballero

The California Supreme Court held that a lengthy term-of-years sentence exceeding a defendant’s life expectancy can be the functional equivalent of an life-without-parole sentence for nonhomicide offenses in violation of Graham.

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State v. Zuber and Comer

New Jersey Supreme Court held that defendants, sentenced to lengthy, aggregate term-of-year periods of incarceration for homicide and nonhomicide crimes, were entitled to resentencing because the sentences at issue were sufficiently lengthy to trigger Miller’s protections

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State v. Moore

Ohio Supreme Court determined that defendant’s 112-year aggregate sentence for nonhomicide crimes—pursuant to which he would be eligible for release after 77 years, at age 92—violated Graham’s prohibition on juvenile life without parole for nonhomicide offenders because it denied a meaningful chance to demonstrate rehabilitation and obtain release.

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People v. Reyes

Illinois Supreme Court concluded that Miller applies to mandatory term-of-years sentence, imposed for offenses committed during a single course of conduct, that cannot be served in one lifetime (here, a 97-year sentence with earliest possible release after 80 years).

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Henry v. State

Florida Supreme Court held that Graham applies to lengthy term-of-years sentences, including aggregate sentences, that deprive the juvenile offender of a meaningful opportunity to obtain release.

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State v. Riley

Connecticut Supreme Court held that juvenile offender sentenced to 100 years in discretionary regime entitled to resentencing because sentencing court did not give “due mitigating weight” to the characteristics and circumstances of youth.

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State v. Null

Juvenile offender sentenced to a mandatory 75-year sentence with no parole eligibility for 52.5 years entitled to resentencing under Miller and the Iowa Constitution.

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State v. Pearson

Iowa Supreme Court remanded sentence of 50 years’ incarceration with parole eligibility after 35 years, imposed for nonhomicide crimes, for an individualized sentencing and consideration of youth in line with Miller.

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State v. Boston

Nevada Supreme Court concluded that Graham applies to lengthy, term-of-year sentences, including aggregate sentences, that are the functional equivalent of life without parole.

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State ex rel. Alden Morgan v. State

Louisiana Supreme Court held that a 99-year sentence without the possibility of parole contravened Graham’s requirement of a meaningful opportunity to obtain release and is illegal (but distinguished aggregate term-of-year sentences).

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Bear Cloud v. State

Juvenile offender ineligible for parole for 45 years entitled to resentencing under Miller; court must weigh the entire sentencing package in light of the mitigating factors of youth.

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Criteria and procedures required for meaningful opportunity to obtain release

The U.S. Supreme Court has established that it violates the Eighth Amendment to sentence children convicted of nonhomicide offenses to life without parole. Instead, these children must have a “realistic” and “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”

The “vast majority” of children convicted of homicide offenses must also have a meaningful opportunity for release. Life without parole may be imposed under the Eighth Amendment only if the child is “the rare juvenile offender who exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible.”

Numerous courts around the country have concluded that sentences may violate the Eighth Amendment even if they are not technically labeled “life without parole.” The relevant inquiry is whether the sentence provides a realistic and meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.

In determining whether sentences deny a meaningful opportunity for release, courts consider whether the criteria and procedures used by parole boards or similar entities provide a realistic and meaningful chance for release. We discuss some such cases below.

We discuss some such cases below.

Brown v. Precythe

A District Court for the Western District of Missouri denied a motion to dismiss a case asserting that Missouri’s parole practices violate the rights of juvenile offenders under the state and federal constitutions, reasoning that the plaintiffs’ allegations, if proven, could permit a finding that the state’s parole practices failed to provide the requisite meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.

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Funchess v. Prince

A federal district court in Louisiana held that Louisiana’s former “two-step parole procedure” failed to provide a meaningful opportunity for release and, thus, that habeas relief was warranted for a defendant serving a mandatory life sentence under this system.

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Johnson v. State

The Florida Supreme Court held that the application of gain time alone is insufficient to provide a defendant with a meaningful opportunity for early release within his or her natural lifetime.

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Diatchenko & Roberio v. Dist. Attorney for Suffolk District

Diatchenko & Roberio v. Dist. Attorney for Suffolk Dist., 471 Mass. 12 (2015): The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that juveniles serving life sentences are entitled to representation by counsel at their initial parole hearings, access to funding for experts, and limited judicial review of parole board decisions.

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Atwell v. State

Juvenile offenders sentenced to mandatory life with parole after 25 years for second degree murder are entitled to resentencing under Florida’s new juvenile sentencing legislation; Florida’s parole process fails to provide a meaningful opportunity for release under the Eighth Amendment.

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State v. Young

North Carolina Supreme Court held that juvenile defendant who received mandatory LWOP sentence was entitled to resentencing under Miller notwithstanding statutory entitlement to discretionary sentence review, because review process did not provide sufficiently meaningful opportunity to reduce severity of sentence.

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Hawkins v. N.Y. DOC

New York appellate court held that parole boards have a constitutional obligation to consider youth and its attendant characteristics, in relationship to the crime, when making parole release decisions for juveniles sentenced to life in prison in order to guarantee a meaningful opportunity for release.

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Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative v. Hogan

U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied in part motion to dismiss action challenging constitutionality of Maryland’s parole system as applied to juvenile homicide offenders, finding that plaintiffs had “sufficiently alleged that Maryland’s parole system operates as a system of executive clemency, in which opportunities for release are ‘remote,’ rather than a true parole scheme in which opportunities for release are ‘meaningful’ and ‘realistic’ as required.

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Hayden v. Keller

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina determined that a sentence of life with parole imposed on a juvenile nonhomicide offender violated the Eighth Amendment because North Carolina’s parole process does not provide a meaningful opportunity for release.

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Greiman v. Hodges

Juvenile non-homicide offender serving life with parole after 25 years alleged that Iowa’s parole system denied him a meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation; defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint denied.

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Hill v. Snyder

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ordered state to create an administrative structure for the purpose of processing and determining the appropriateness of parole for juvenile offenders serving life-without-parole sentences and set forth certain required procedures.

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Jury findings

Montgomery and Miller set an Eighth Amendment ceiling on the punishment that may be imposed in the “vast majority” of juvenile cases. Absent a properly informed finding of irreparable corruption, a child convicted of a homicide offense may not be exposed to a life-without-parole sentence. Instead, the maximum possible sentence is one that provides a meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Sixth Amendment cases, a judge may not make factual findings that expose a defendant to a sentence above the maximum sentence authorized by the jury’s verdict. In other words, if an enhanced sentence is authorized only if certain facts are established, then a defendant may be exposed to the enhanced sentence only if a jury finds those facts. Moreover, the jury must find those facts beyond a reasonable doubt.

An Eighth Amendment punishment ceiling defines the lawful sentencing range to which a defendant may be exposed. Thus, under the Court’s Sixth Amendment cases, it follows that an Eighth Amendment ceiling may not be raised under the Sixth Amendment absent jury findings beyond a reasonable doubt.

Accordingly, children have a right to jury findings before they can be exposed to life without parole. First, a jury must find (beyond a reasonable doubt) that the child’s conduct involved all the factual components necessary to make the conduct a “homicide” within the meaning of Graham and Miller. Second, absent a finding of irreparable corruption by a jury (beyond a reasonable doubt), the child may not be exposed to life without parole. Instead, the maximum sentence is one that provides a meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.

Below, we highlight cases addressing this topic.

People v. Skinner

A Michigan Court of Appeals held that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder in Michigan have a Sixth Amendment right to jury findings before they may be exposed to life without parole.

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Note:  A conflicts panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned Skinner, deciding that a judge, and not a jury, is to make the determination about whether to sentence a juvenile to life without parole.  See People v. Hyatt, 316 Mich. App. 368 (2016). The Supreme Court of Michigan has granted review in Skinner and Hyatt. See People v. Skinner, No. 152448, 2017 WL 388865 (Mich. Jan. 24, 2017); People v. Hyatt, No. 153081, 884 N.W.2d 293 (Mem.) (Mich. Sept. 7, 2016).