Supreme Court rules in major Eighth Amendment sentencing case

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Yahoo News: Supreme Court rules in major Eighth Amendment sentencing case



The Supreme Court has recently ruled in a major Eighth Amendment sentencing case involving past Louisiana court decisions.


As Jonathan Stahl of The National Constitution Center reports, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, which determined the extent to which new rules of law apply retroactively. In 2012, the Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentencing schemes requiring that “all children convicted of homicide receive lifetime incarcerations without the possibility of parole” violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment (Yahoo News).


In 1963, Henry Montgomery was given a life sentence after being convicted of murder at age 17, due to the mandatory sentencing scheme that was in place at the time. Because of the 2012 Miller ruling, Montgomery argued that the new standard established in that case should be retroactively applied to his conviction and be dismissed as a violation of the Eighth Amendment (Yahoo News).


In 1989, the Supreme Court established the framework for determining when new rules of law, like the one established in Miller, should apply retroactively. The Court decided in Teague v Lane that, in order to apply retroactively, a new rule must either completely prohibit a punishment that can be imposed on a class of defendants, or be a “watershed rule of criminal procedure” that impacts the fundamental fairness of criminal proceedings (Yahoo News).


Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, stating that in light of the Miller decision, Montgomery’s conviction “is, by definition, unlawful” (Yahoo News). He added that protection against disproportionate punishment is the “central substantive guarantee of the Eighth Amendment,” citing precedent set by Miller that establishes mandatory life sentencing for juveniles is in fact disproportionate (Yahoo News).


According to Jonathan Stahl, sentencing in criminal cases is an issue that has been addressed by all three branches of government in recent months, and the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act reflects the U.S. government’s bipartisan interest in addressing the country’s inflated incarceration rates. In his State of the Union address, President Obama mentioned the reform bill, expressing hope that Congress will correct what some groups like the American Civil Liberties Union feel is an outdated and unfair system (Yahoo News).


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See the full article here.

See the full Montgomery v Louisiana decision here.

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