New Hampshire Supreme Court Holds Miller Is Retroactive

09.02.14

On August 29, 2014, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire unanimously held that children who were automatically sentenced to life imprisonment without parole are now entitled to a new sentencing hearing. New Hampshire is the eighth state to formally apply Miller v. Alabama to juvenile defendants who were sentenced to mandatory life-without-parole before the United States Supreme Court decided Miller.

After the United States Supreme Court struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders in Miller v. Alabama in 2012, trial judges in New Hampshire followed the decision and ordered new sentencing hearings in several cases.

The prosecution appealed, arguing that Miller applies only to new cases. The state supreme court disagreed, reasoning that Miller applies retroactively to all cases in which automatic death-in-prison sentences have been imposed on children because it is a substantive rule. “By prohibiting the imposition of mandatory sentences and requiring that the sentencing authority ‘have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penalty for juveniles,'” the court wrote, “Miller changed the permissible punishment for juveniles convicted of homicide.”

The State urged the court to follow the minority of courts that have found Miller is not retroactive because it is merely a procedural rule. The New Hampshire Supreme Court rejected that view, explaining that Miller‘s requirement that sentencing judges follow a certain process “is the result of the Court’s substantive change in the law prohibiting mandatory life-without-parole sentencing for juveniles because ‘youth matters for purposes of meting out the law’s most serious punishments.'”

“We cannot see how such a rule could be anything other than substantive,” the court concluded. New Hampshire joins Illinois, Mississippi, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas,¬†and Nebraska, as well as federal courts across the country, in recognizing that Miller is fully retroactive.