Connecticut Supreme Court Holds Miller v. Alabama Is Retroactive


The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled last week that the United States Supreme Court’s decision barring mandatory death-in-prison sentences for juveniles applies retroactively.

The Supreme Court struck down automatic life-without-parole sentences for children in Miller v. Alabama. In the three years since that decision, most state courts have applied it to people already serving the banned sentence.

Connecticut’s highest court now joins the supreme courts of Nebraska, 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 Casiano v. Commissioner of Correction, the Connecticut Supreme Court unanimously decided that the new rule announced in Miller is a watershed rule of criminal procedure that must be applied retroactively under Teague v. Lane. The court reasoned that Miller “has a substantive component” but its “focus . . . on the process by which juveniles can be sentenced to life without parole leads us to conclude that, for purposes of Teague, Miller announced a procedural rule.”

Procedural rules are retroactive only if they are critical to a fundamentally fair and reliable proceeding. The court in Casiano concluded that Miller satisfies this test because “the individualized sentencing prescribed by Miller is ‘central to an accurate determination’ that the sentence imposed is a proportionate one.”

The court decided that Miller must be applied retroactively not only to life without parole sentences, but also to lengthy terms of years, including Mr. Casiano’s 50-year sentence. “The United States Supreme Court viewed the concept of ‘life’ in Miller and Graham more broadly than biological survival,” the court wrote. “[I]t implicitly endorsed the notion that an individual is effectively incarcerated for ‘life’ if he will have no opportunity to truly reenter society or have any meaningful life outside of prison.”