I have been asked to update the blog post regarding Miller v. Alabama (US 2012), the recent US Supreme Court decision regarding mandatory life sentences for juvenile criminal defendants convicted of capital murder. There is some question about whether or not the decision will be applied retroactively. If the decision applies retroactively, the State of Mississippi would be required to give new sentencing hearings to all defendants who were given mandatory sentences of life without parole for crimes committed while they were juveniles.
As noted in the last blog post, State Attorney General, Jim Hood, believes that the Miller decision will not have a large impact for juveniles that have already been sentenced to life without the possibility of parol due to the mandate of the parol statute (Ms Code § 47-5-138). This implies that Jim Hood does not believe that the Miller decision will be applied retroactively. The US Supreme Court did not provide a clear answer in its decision and previous case law does not provide a clear answer. Thus, there will be litigation on the issue of Miller being applied retroactively and the Court may be required to decide the issue in a future case.
In Scriro v. Summerlin, 124 S.Ct. 2519 (US 2004), the US Supreme Court provided the analysis of this issue. The opinion was written by Justice Scalia and it declined to apply the new rule that the decision to impose the death penalty must be made by a jury, calling that rule procedural. The analysis turns on the categorization of the new rule. In short, a "new rule" announced by the Court is retroactive if it is a substantive rule and prospective only if it is a procedural rule. A new rule is substantive if it places particular persons or conduct covered beyond the State's power to punish. However, a rule is merely procedural if it does not produce a class of persons convicted of conduct the law cannot make criminal (under the new rule). A procedural rule may still be given retroactive effect if it falls into the small category of "watershed rules of criminal procedure" implicating fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.
The rule announced in Miller v. Alabama (US 2012) can be viewed as both procedural and substantive under this analysis. The new rule is procedural in that it requires an individualized sentencing hearing for juveniles convicted of murder. The new rule is substantive in that it struck down mandatory provisions of state law, which places particular persons (juveniles convicted of murder) beyond the State's power to punish using mandatory sentencing schemes. This issue will undoubtedly be litigated and if decided by the Supreme Court would likely result in a five to four decision. The question is whether Justice Scalia writes the dissent or the opinion.
Justice Scalia would undoubtedly decide that the rule announced in Miller should not be applied retroactively because it is procedural because it requires a specific procedure and does not in anyway affect the accuracy of the trial's finding of guilt or innocence. The correct decision is to say that the rule applies retroactively. The rule that juveniles cannot be subject to mandatory life without parole removes that class of persons from the State's ability to punish them under that mandatory scheme. In essence, the rule is that state statutes providing for mandatory sentences of life without parol are unconstitutional as applied to juveniles. It strikes down the substance of a statue as applied to juveniles and implicates the fundamental fairness dictated by the eighth amendment. While it is true that the rule has procedural implications (i.e. the need for a sentencing hearing), it deals with the substantive law that limits the power to punish given to the states. It is therefore correctly viewed as a new substantive rule that has procedural effects. It should be applied retroactively, so that all inmates and not just new ones will have been sentenced in accordance with the constitution of this land.