Two years have passed since the Supreme Court, on June 25, 2012, ruled that juveniles cannot be automatically sentenced to life without a chance at parole, striking down laws in 28 states. A majority of the states have not yet passed any statutory reform. Of the states that have done so, many require decades-long minimum sentences and few have applied the changes retroactively.
On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court banned the use of mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles. The landmark ruling, Miller v. Alabama,1 was the third in a recent series of juvenile sentencing decisions from the court; it built on prior rulings that banned the death penalty for juveniles2 and banned life without parole (LWOP) sentences for non-homicide offenses.3
Miller struck down laws in 28 states and the federal government that required mandatory, parole-ineligible life sentences for individuals whose homicide offenses occurred before the age of 18. The Court ruled that while sentences of life without parole were still permissible, they could only be imposed after judicial consideration of the individual circumstances in a case and must consider the offender’s maturity. This briefing paper reviews legislative changes in the affected states responding to the decision.
Two years later, the legislative responses to come into compliance with Miller have been decidedly mixed. A majority of the 28 states have not passed legislation. Frequently, the new laws have left those currently serving life without parole without recourse to a new sentence. Though 13 of the 28 states have passed compliance laws since Miller; the minimum time that must be served before parole review is still substantial, ranging from 25 years (Delaware, North Carolina, and Washington) to 40 years (Nebraska and Texas). Most states, not only those affected by Miller, still allow juveniles to be sentenced to life without a chance of parole as long as the sentence is imposed through individual review rather than as a result of a mandatory statute.
Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012).
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005).
Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010).