The Mississippi Supreme Court today ruled that the United States Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama barring mandatory life imprisonment without parole sentences for children “created a new, substantive rule which should be applied retroactively to cases on collateral review.”
Prosecutors in Mississippi argued that the Miller decision does not apply to people who were automatically sentenced to die in prison for juvenile offenses if they had completed the direct appeal process before the decision was announced last year. The state’s highest court unanimously rejected that argument and held en banc that Miller applies retroactively. (Three justices disagreed about the type of relief required.)
Mississippi’s is the first state supreme court in a jurisdiction with a sizable population of people directly impacted by Miller to issue a detailed decision on the question of retroactivity. There are dozens of people in the state who were automatically condemned to die in prison for crimes when they were under age eighteen.
Earlier this year, the state supreme court in Minnesota, with only a handful of Miller-eligible cases, denied relief on non-retroactivity grounds. The Louisiana Supreme Court permitted retroactive application of Miller in a collateral case late last year.
The United States Courts of Appeals for the Second, Fourth, and Eighth circuits have granted permission to raise Miller claims in second or successive petitions because petitioners made a prima facie showing that Miller announced “a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court.” The Eleventh Circuit denied permission to file a successive petition based on Miller.
The United States Supreme Court’s June 25, 2012, ruling in Miller and Jackson v. Hobbs holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger convicted of homicide are unconstitutional struck down mandatory sentencing statutes in 29 states.
The Court reasoned that “imposition of a State’s most severe penalties on juvenile offenders cannot proceed as though they were not children.” Accordingly, hundreds of people whose sentences did not take their age or other mitigating factors into account, including Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson, are now entitled to new sentencing hearings.
While some state prosecutors and lower state courts have resisted implementation of Miller by arguing the decision is not retroactive, the federal government has taken the uniform position in cases on collateral review all across the country that Miller is fully retroactively applicable.