Supreme Court: People serving life terms for murders committed as teens must have sentences reviewed

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

By MARK SHERMAN
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court has ruled that people serving life terms for murders they committed as teenagers must have a chance to seek their freedom.

The justices on Monday voted 6-3 to extend a ruling from 2012 that struck down automatic life terms with no chance of parole for teenage killers. Now, even those who were convicted long ago must be considered for parole or given a new sentence.

The court ruled in the case of Henry Montgomery. He’s been imprisoned more than 50 years, since he killed a sheriff’s deputy as a 17-year-old in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1963.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.

Legal system reacts

The Court’s decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana made retroactive a 2012 decision, Miller v. Alabama, in which it held that life-without-parole sentences cannot be mandatory for juvenile murderers.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange blasted the high court’s ruling, saying it will have a devastating effect on the families of murder victims who thought they already received closure in murder cases often going back decades.

“Due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, murder victims’ families may be put through the ordeal of seeing the person responsible for the death of their loved one years ago being allowed to receive a new sentence,” said Attorney General Strange.

“These are persons convicted of murder who have already exhausted all their appeals and are currently serving a sentence of life without parole.  This is the latest in a series of truly irresponsible rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court which collectively undermine the rule of law and directly attack the rights of murder victims.

“In Alabama alone there are at least 70 convicted murderers serving life-without-parole sentences who could be granted the chance for a new sentence and possibly parole.  I will stand with murder victims and their families and work with local district attorneys to ensure that these murderers serve out their sentences.”

In August 2015, the State of Alabama joined Michigan, Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming in filing an amicus brief in support of Louisiana in the case.

Meanwhile, Southern Poverty Law Center Director Rhonda Brownstein applauded the Montgomery decision.

““Today’s ruling is a milestone in the movement to reform our criminal justice system and, specifically, to acknowledge the fundamental differences between children and adults. All but seven states – Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and Pennsylvania – are in compliance with the ruling already. This decision will mean that about 2,000 people in those states – people who are now serving automatic life-without-parole sentences for crimes they committed as children – will get a new chance.”