The NAACP Legal Defense Fund & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) applauds today’s U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Montgomery v. Louisiana, declaring that its previous decision in Miller v. Alabama–which banned mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders–applies to those who were already serving life sentences without parole when Miller was announced. Previously, seven state supreme courts (including those in Alabama, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, and Colorado) ruled that Miller only prevented the imposition of mandatory life sentences without parole after the Supreme Court’s decision. As a result of today’s decision, every person who received a mandatory life sentence without parole as a child is eligible for re-sentencing.
“Montgomery is the latest in a long line of Supreme Court cases recognizing that children are less culpable than adults and should not be subjected to extreme adult sentences, like mandatory life without parole,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel. “The applicability of this fundamentally important principle cannot be dependent on the state in which the child offender happens to live.”
Today’s ruling means that thousands of individuals across the country who were incarcerated as children–many of whom are now adults–can benefit from the Supreme Court’s prior decision in Miller. Specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court restored “…hope for some years of life outside prison walls” for Henry Montgomery who, for nearly fifty years, had been condemned to die in prison.
In Miller, the Court declared that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Montgomery reaffirms Miller and requires a re-examination of every such sentence to ensure that no child will be “…forced to serve a disproportionate sentence in violation of the Eighth Amendment.” The ruling is especially meaningful for African-American children, who are ten times more likely to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
“In addition to making clear that all states must acknowledge and implement the Miller decision, Montgomery reinforces the principle that every child that makes a mistake deserves a second chance,” said Jin Hee Lee, LDF’s Deputy Director of Litigation. “Life sentences without parole should only be imposed on children in the most rare and uncommon cases.”
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.