Eighth Amendment Retroactivity Applied to Juveniles

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana  that constitutional protection, which prohibits the sentencing of life in prison without possibility parole for juvenile offenders, is to be retroactively applied in all cases.   That means individuals who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole as a juvenile, will now be able to challenge their sentence and file for post-conviction relief in Washington State.

How This Came About

Two years ago the U.S. Supreme Court announced the Eighth Amendment protects against sentencing juvenile offenders to life in prison without the possibility for parole, in Miller v. Alabama.  In part, the Court reasoned that an offender’s age is relevant in the Eighth Amendment analysis.  When sentencing a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole, the sentencing is so rigid there is not an opportunity to take age into account.  Going forward, juveniles could not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

But what about the past cases where individuals were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole?  The U.S. Supreme Court did not address that in Miller and the issue had to be litigated separately because “a new constitutional rule of criminal procedure does not apply, as a general matter, to convictions that were final when the new rule was announced.”1 So the issue of whether Miller could be applied retroactively had to be re-litigated.

The Montgomery decision announced Miller is retroactively applicable.   Thus, the constitutional protections from Miller are to be applied to convictions that came before Miller where juveniles were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Impact on Washington Juveniles Sentenced to Life in Prison Without Parole Prior to Miller v. Alabama

The impact on individuals who this ruling affects is that they will now be able to argue their sentence is illegal in violation of the Eighth Amendment protections.  But they need to raise that argument before the court.

For those in the state of Washington who would like help challenging their sentence in light of Montgomery v. Louisiana, I can help.  Please contact me as soon as possible to set up a consultation about what options may be the best for you.

  1. Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. ___ (2016) (slip op. at 9).

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