The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday said it would decide whether its 2012 decision prohibiting mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile murderers under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes is retroactive.
After turning away a number of cases raising the retroactivity question since its decision in Miller v. Alabama, the justices agreed to hear arguments by George Toca, who was 17 in 1984 when he accidently shot his best friend, Eric Batiste, during a botched armed robbery.
Toca’s counsel, Emily Maw of the Innocence Project New Orleans, told the court in her petition that most state and federal courts have recognized that Miller created a new substantive rule that applies retroactively to youths whose sentences became final before it was announced.
“But courts in a handful of statesundefinedincluding Louisiana, which has a large population of juveniles automatically sentenced to die in prisonundefinedhave misconstrued what this court mandated in Miller and concluded the rule it announced is not retroactive,” she wrote.
Hundreds of prisoners, she added, are entitled to new sentencing hearings under Miller but are blocked from relief in the minority of states that have refused to recognize Miller’s retroactivity.
Louisiana argued against review, contending that Miller did not meet the court’s requirements for retroactive application. The state contended that Miller did not announce a substantive new rule of law, only a change in sentencing proceedings, and its holding was not a “watershed development” in criminal procedure implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the proceeding.
The justices also added two bankruptcy cases to its decision docket this termundefinedBullard v. Hyde Park Savings Bank, and Harris v. Viegelahnundefinedand a patent challenge, Kimble v. Marvel Enterprises.