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On January 25, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Montgomery v. Louisiana. Petitioner Montgomery was 17 years old in 1963, when he killed a deputy sheriff in Louisiana and received a mandatory sentence of life without parole. In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life without parole for juvenile homicide offenders violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments.” Montgomery sought state collateral relief, arguing that Miller rendered his mandatory life-without-parole sentence illegal. The trial court denied his motion, and his application for a supervisory writ was denied by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which had previously held that Miller does not have retroactive effect in cases on state collateral review.
Montgomery’s case presents the U.S. Supreme Court with two questions: (1) Whether the Court has jurisdiction to decide whether the Supreme Court of Louisiana properly refused to give retroactive effect to Miller; and (2) Whether Miller adopts a new substantive rule that applies retroactively on collateral review to people condemned as juveniles to die in prison.
By a vote of 6-3 the Supreme Court answered both questions in the affirmative, reversing the judgment of the Louisiana Supreme Court and remanding the case. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, in which the Chief Justice and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined. Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Thomas and Alito joined. Justice Thomas also filed a dissenting opinion.
To discuss the case, we have Zachary Bolitho, who is Assistant Professor at Campbell University School of Law.