Thursday, March 10, 2016

Justices: Don't give up on life sentences for juveniles

In light of Montgomery v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court recently vacated and remanded a number of pending cases that were asserting that Miller v. Alabama--which banned mandatory life in prison sentences for juveniles--should be applied retroactive. Attached to each order is the following concurrence by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito:

Justice Thomas, with whom Justice Alito joins, concurring in the decision to grant, vacate, and remand in this case: The Court has held the petition in this and many other cases pending the decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U. S. ___ (2016). In holding this petition and now vacating and remanding the judgment below, the Court has not assessed whether petitioner’s asserted entitlement to retroactive relief “is properly presented in the case.” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 13). On remand, courts should understand that the Court’s disposition of this petition does not reflect any view regarding petitioner’s entitlement to relief. The Court’s disposition does not, for example, address whether an adequate and independent state ground bars relief, whether petitioner forfeited or waived any entitlement to relief (by, for example, entering into a plea agreement waiving any entitlement to relief), or whether petitioner’s sentence actually qualifies as a mandatory life without parole sentence.

The concurrence seems to be a warning to prosecutors not to capitulate on the issue of life without parole for juvenile offenders. According to Thomas and Alito there is more than one way to skin a cat. 

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