The United States Supreme Court opened its new term today by letting stand the Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision retroactively applying the constitutional ban on automatic life-without-parole sentences for children.
Since the United States Supreme Court struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders in Miller v. Alabama in 2012, most state courts have held that the decision applies to people already serving the banned sentence. The supreme courts of Nebraska, New Hampshire, Illinois, Mississippi, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Texas, as well as federal courts across the country, all have recognized that Miller is fully retroactive.
The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in State v. Mantich that Miller announced a substantive rule that applies retroactively “because it sets forth the general rule that life imprisonment without parole should not be imposed upon a juvenile except in the rarest of cases.” The court further found that Miller is substantive because it “required Nebraska to change its substantive punishment” for murder committed by a juvenile.
Douglas Mantich was 16 years old when he was charged with murder. He was convicted in 1994 and automatically sentenced to die in prison. Nebraska’s highest court decided in February 2014 that Miller applies to his case. It vacated Mr. Mantich’s sentence and ordered a new sentencing hearing.
The State appealed to the United States Supreme Court, asking it to announce that it meant for Miller to be applied only to future cases, not to anyone already serving a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for a juvenile offense. The Court today denied the State’s petition for review, leaving intact the Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision that Miller is retroactive.