The United States Supreme Court today granted a Louisiana man’s request for review of that state’s decision to deny retroactive application of the constitutional ban on automatic life-without-parole sentences for children.
George Toca had just turned seventeen when his best friend was accidentally shot during a botched armed robbery in 1984. George was convicted in 1985 and the Orleans Parish judge imposed a mandatory life-without-parole sentence.
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. George Toca 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. On November 12, South Carolina became the latest state to apply Miller retroactively. Like the supreme courts of Wyoming, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Illinois, Mississippi, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Texas, as well as federal courts across the country, the South Carolina Supreme Court unanimously recognized that Miller is a substantive rule that “plainly excludes a certain class of defendants–juveniles–from specific punishment–life without parole absent individualized considerations of youth.” The new substantive rule must be applied retroactively because failing to do so “risks subjecting defendants to a legally invalid punishment.”
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 George Toca’s case, which is Toca v. Louisiana, No. 14-6381: whether the rule announced in Miller v. Alabama applies retroactively to Mr. Toca’s case; and whether a federal question is raised by the Louisiana court’s failure to find that Miller is retroactive.
Today’s order comes on the heels of the Court’s December 1 decision to leave intact the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision holding that Miller is retroactive. In October, the Court also let stand the Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision that Miller is retroactive.