Thursday, October 15, 2015

Supreme Court takes up retroactivity of Miller v. Alabama

Retroactivity sounds like a really boring legal subject. Until you learn that some 2,000 people serving terms of life without parole could have a shot at release if the Supreme Court rules that Miller v. Alabama, a 2012 decision, is retroactive, according to Nina Totenberg of NPR.
Three years ago, the court struck down state laws that imposed a mandatory and automatic sentence of life without parole on juvenile murderers. The decision clearly applied prospectively, and many states changed their laws to comply. But what about those juvenile killers sentenced to mandatory life without parole before 2012? Does the decision apply to them too? That was the question before the Supreme Court.
Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben, representing the federal government, was midway through his argument time.
Dreeben gratefully grasped at the chief justice's invitation to switch direction. He said that the court's 2012 decision should be retroactive because the ruling went "far beyond" mere procedural changes and required states to adopt new sentencing options that included penalties less severe than life without parole.
He noted that the Supreme Court itself, in striking down mandatory life without parole for juvenile killers three years ago, found the penalty was often "disproportionate" and that the sentence was not consistent with "the mitigating characteristics of youth" the court has recognized repeatedly.
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