News Release

Supreme Court Ban on Mandatory Juvenile Life Without Parole Strengthened, Made Retroactive

Washington, DC (Jan. 25, 2016) -- In a case revisiting its landmark 2012 juvenile justice decision in Miller v. Alabama, today the United States Supreme Court ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its holding in Miller prohibiting mandatory life without parole for juveniles is a substantive rule of Constitutional law and therefore retroactive in cases of state collateral review. Indeed, the Court emphasized its finding in Miller that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual” punishment to mandatorily impose life without parole sentencing for juveniles. By its ruling today, the Court resolves what had become a split in the state courts.

"Children are different. Full stop. We know this. Science has proven it. And today the United States has another important Supreme Court opinion holding that the criminal law must recognize it,” said NACDL President E.G. "Gerry" Morris. "NACDL has proudly and diligently worked on Miller and Miller-retroactivity as well as numerous other juvenile justice issues for many years and with incredible coalition partners. NACDL will never relent in its work to ensure that age and other circumstances of youth be taken into account in order to ensure compliance with constitutional requirements and to promote fair, rational, and humane sentencing practices that respect the dignity of the individual."

In finding its rule in Miller to be a substantive Constitutional rule, the majority in Montgomery today explained that:

Miller… did more than require a sentencer to consider a juvenile offender’s youth before imposing life without parole; it established that the penological justifications for life without parole collapse in light of “the distinctive attributes of youth.” Even if a court considers a child’s age before sentencing him or her to a lifetime in prison, that sentence still violates the Eighth Amendment for a child whose crime reflects “‘unfortunate yet transient immaturity.’” Because Miller determined that sentencing a child to life without parole is excessive for all but “‘the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption,’” it rendered life without parole an unconstitutional penalty for “a class of defendants because of their status”—that is, juvenile offenders whose crimes reflect the transient immaturity of youth. As a result, Miller announced a substantive rule of constitutional law. Like other substantive rules, Miller is retroactive because it “‘necessarily carr[ies] a significant risk that a defendant’”—here, the vast majority of juvenile offenders— “‘faces a punishment that the law cannot impose upon him.’” (citations omitted)

NACDL was a co-amici on an important amicus curiae, or friend-of-the-court brief filed with the Supreme Court in this case. Indeed, NACDL has been joining together with allies filing in state courts across the country in Miller-retroactivity and other juvenile justice-related cases.

Learn more here about NACDL's work in the area of juvenile justice, including a series of practice-focused webinars entitled "Representing Juveniles at Sentencing in Adult Court in the Post-Roper, Graham and Miller Era,” supported by the Foundation for Criminal Justice.

Joint Amicus Curiae brief is available here. NACDL's Amicus Curiae brief library is at

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Ivan J. Dominguez, NACDL Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or for more information.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.