State lines have become one of the greatest determinants of whether a person who has spent years or decades in prison after receiving an automatic life-without-parole sentence as a child has an opportunity for review and resentencing.
Two years after the Miller v. Alabama decision found that it is unconstitutional to impose these sentences upon children, states are inconsistent in their rulings regarding retroactivity.
Most state supreme courts that have taken up the issue have determined that Miller should be applied retroactively and that the date on which a person was sentenced should not determine whether or not a child will die in prison. Yet, four state supreme courts have ruled that Miller does not apply to people sentenced before June 15, 2012. Michigan was recently added to this list.
Despite these setbacks, our movement has a reason to remain encouraged. High courts in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Texas had ruled that Miller must be applied retroactively, making hundreds of people eligible for review and resentencing who were told as children that they would die in prison. The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet taken a case raising the issue of the retroactivity of Miller, but we know that the vast majority of cases that the Court is asked to hear are not accepted.
Ultimately, we believe our nation’s highest court will have to make a decision that can apply throughout the country. Until then, we stand with all those prisoners and family members who have had to endure the challenges of being given hope one day, and then having it stripped away the next. Their fortitude, courage, and patience inspire us to continue our work together to pass meaningful legislation, ensure good judicial outcomes, and demonstrate the human impact of these extreme sentences.
All children – no matter where they live – are more than the worst thing they have ever done. We won’t stop our work together until every state recognizes this and holds children accountable in ways that focus on their potential for change and rehabilitation.
Jody Kent Lavy
Director & National Coordinator