U.S. Supreme Court to Review Louisiana’s Refusal to Apply Miller v. Alabama Retroactively


The United States Supreme Court today granted Henry Montgomery’s request for review of Louisiana’s decision to deny retroactive application of the constitutional ban on automatic life-without-parole sentences for children.

In 1963, Henry Montgomery was arrested for murder less than two weeks after his seventeenth birthday and was originally sentenced to death. He won a new trial due to undue community prejudice and was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole nearly 50 years ago.

On June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama ruled that mandatory life-without-parole sentences imposed on children under age eighteen are unconstitutional. Henry Montgomery filed a motion asking for the ruling in Miller to be applied to his sentence, but it was denied because the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that Miller does not apply retroactively to sentences imposed before it was announced in 2012.

Unlike Louisiana, most state supreme courts agree that Miller is retroactive. Last week, Florida became the latest state to apply Miller retroactively. Like the supreme courts of Wyoming, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Illinois, Mississippi, Iowa, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Texas, as well as federal courts across the country, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously recognized that Miller is retroactive because it “placed beyond the authority of the state the power” to impose mandatory life-without-parole sentences on juveniles.

Louisiana is one of a small number of states that have refused to apply Miller to people whose sentences were imposed and reviewed before the decision was announced.

The nation’s highest court will address two questions in Henry Montgomery’s case, which is Montgomery v. Louisiana, No. 14-280: whether Miller v. Alabama adopts a new substantive rule that applies retroactively on collateral review to people condemned as juveniles to die in prison; and whether the Court has jurisdiction to decide whether the Supreme Court of Louisiana correctly refused to give retroactive effect in this case to its decision in Miller.

The Court previously granted review in another Louisiana case, Toca v. Louisiana, to address these questions, but the case became moot after Mr. Toca, who had strong evidence that he was innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to die in prison, was released pursuant to an agreement with prosecutors.