Arkansas Supreme Court Holds Miller v. Alabama Is Retroactive


The Arkansas Supreme Court issued an unanimous decision last week holding that the United States Supreme Court’s decision barring mandatory death-in-prison sentences for juveniles applies retroactively.

The United States Supreme Court struck down automatic life-without-parole sentences for children in Miller v. Alabama in 2012. Most state courts have applied Miller retroactively to people already serving the banned sentence and granted them a new sentencing hearing.

Arkansas’s highest court now joins the supreme courts of Nebraska, Connecticut, Florida, New Hampshire, Illinois, Mississippi, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas, and Wyoming, as well as federal courts across the country, in recognizing that Miller is fully retroactive.

In Kelley v. Gordon, the Arkansas Supreme Court observed that the companion case to Miller, Jackson v. Hobbs, was an Arkansas case on collateral review. On remand from the United States Supreme Court, “this court reversed the denial of Kuntrell Jackson’s petition for writ of habeas corpus and issued the writ.” It then instructed the county circuit court to hold a new sentencing hearing where Mr. Jackson would “have the opportunity to present for consideration evidence that would include that of his ‘age, age-related characteristics, and the nature of his crime.'”

The court reasoned that because it had already granted relief to Kuntrell Jackson, “[i]t would be patently unfair to decline to do so for other prisoners who are similarly situated.” Accordingly, Ulonzo Gordon “is entitled to the same relief from his unconstitutional sentence as Kuntrell Jackson received — namely, a sentencing proceeding at which he will have the opportunity to present Miller evidence.” The court vacated Mr. Gordon’s sentence and ordered a new sentencing hearing, “as a matter of fundamental fairness and evenhanded justice.”