Earlier this year in January 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court gave hope to juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole for crimes such as murder. On January 25, 2016, in its 6-3 decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court held that mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional. In addition, the Court held that its ruling should be applied retroactively.
Facts of Montgomery v. Louisiana
In Montgomery, the defendant (Montgomery) killed a police officer in Louisiana when he was 17 years old in 1963. The defendant was found “guilty without capital punishment” by the jury, which carried an automatic life sentence without parole.
Then, almost 50 years after Montgomery was sentenced to life without parole, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
After the Supreme Court’s Miller decision, Montgomery filed a motion for relief arguing that Miller rendered his mandatory life without parole sentence illegal. The trial court denied his motion. Montgomery filed many subsequent petitions, and his case was finally appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
What Does This Mean for PA Prisoners Convicted as Juveniles for Murder Crimes?
Montgomery is a direct contradiction to Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling in Commonwealth v. Cunningham, which held that the Miller ruling should not be applied retroactively. However, since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling takes precedent over state cases, Commonwealth v. Cunningham no longer applies. Thus, there will likely be new hearings for Pennsylvania inmates who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles for crimes such as murder.
According to Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections, there are 497 offenders in Pennsylvania who are affected by the recent decision. Inmates may have the opportunity to get back into court by filing Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) Petitions to request for a new sentencing hearing.
It is important to note that the Montgomery ruling does not mean states must grant parole to each prisoner convicted a juvenile. Rather, the ruling allows for the possibility of parole for prisoners who were convicted as juveniles and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Help With Your PCRA Petition
If you have questions about the above recent Supreme Court case and whether it applies to you or a loved one who as a juvenile was sentenced to life without parole, call David Nenner, a Philadelphia criminal lawyer. Mr. Nenner has extensive criminal trial experience and has been selected by Super Lawyers as a “Top Rated Criminal Defense Attorney in Philadelphia, PA.”
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