The Supreme Court has made the decision that juveniles previously sentenced to life prior to the landmark Miller v. Alabama decision will be protected under the provision.
According to BuzzFeed News, the 6-3 decision was made Monday after considering the case of Henry “Wolfman” Montgomery. Montgomery was 17 when he was sentenced to life in the capital murder of a deputy near Baton Rouge in 1963.
In 2012, Miller v. Alabama determined juveniles officially under 18 were not eligible for life sentences or punishment without parole under the protection of the eighth amendment.
The ruling was a source point for Justice Anthony Kennedy, who supported the decision to allow states to import retroactive effect into prior cases. Over 1,000 prisoners from Louisiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (the largest state of juvenile homicide offenders) will be affected by the case, BuzzFeed News writes.
Via BuzzFeed News:
Explaining further, Kennedy, quoting from past decisions, wrote, “Like other substantive rules, Miller is retroactive because it ‘necessarily carr[ies] a significant risk that a defendant’—here, the vast majority of juvenile offenders— ‘faces a punishment that the law cannot impose upon him.’”
As such, it is retroactive to past sentences like Montgomery’s one under the court’s rules for deciding whether criminal law decisions apply retroactively.
Because “children are constitutionally different,” Kennedy wrote, “prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.”
Montgomery’s case brings about more questions than answers. The now 69-year-old was the son of an autistic mother and elderly grandparents, and was caught skipping class by deputy Charles Hurt. The officer and father of three was patting the teen down, when he realized Hunt was in possession of a small gun. Reports claim Montgomery shot the officer with intent to kill. Police investigated the case rather quickly–because Miranda rights weren’t implemented, Montgomery not only gave his account of what happened without the presence of a lawyer, but police had him re-enact the event in front of photographers and reporters, using the photos in newspapers to publicize the case.
Civil rights lawyer Johnnie Jones, who later represented Montgomery, claimed the then-teenager panicked and fatally shot the officer. The student held a low IQ and wasn’t mentally coherent, the attorney argued.
The case went to trial with an all-White jury and returned with a life sentence in just 24 hours.
The Lens NOLA reports:
The larger context — the racially segregated world that Montgomery lived in, along with his limited intellect and tough childhood — can’t be separated from his legal case, said Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center, who is acting as co-counsel for Montgomery before the Supreme Court.
That’s the entire premise of Miller ruling, she said. Since the decision, no juvenile can face life in prison without parole unless a judge holds a hearing to examine how his youth and individual circumstances may have affected his actions.
“Context is important,” Levick said. “Montgomery’s case illustrates the type of miscarriage of justice that the court wanted to avoid in issuing its Miller decision.”
On Monday, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito dissented the decision. Scalia’s notes called the breakdown of Miller and its new application to life sentences for juveniles without parole “devious.”
Montgomery, who currently works in the Louisiana State Penitentiary gym, now has a chance at being released. Former inmates have only said good things about the taciturn man.