Significant court rulings during the past decade continue to reshape juvenile justice policy.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Roper v. Simmons that the Eighth Amendment’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment prohibits juveniles from being sentenced to death for crimes they committed before they reached age 18. Five years later, the court abolished the sentence of life without the possibility of parole for youth convicted of nonhomicide crimes in Graham v. Florida.
Building on these two cases, the court in 2012 abolished mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole in Miller v. Alabama. The court in Miller ruled that while sentences of life without parole were still permissible, they could only be imposed after judicial consideration of the individual circumstances and the court must consider the offender’s maturity level.
In January 2016, the court ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its 2012 Miller decision must be applied retroactively. States are not required to relitigate sentences in each case where juveniles received a mandatory sentence of life without parole, but a state must permit juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole.
In Jones v. Mississippi the Supreme Court held 6-3 that sentencing a juvenile convicted of homicide to life without parole doesn’t require a separate factual finding of permanent incorrigibility or an on-the-record explanation with an implicit finding of permanent incorrigibility.
Near the end of the majority opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that states can pass laws that offer juvenile homicide offenders protections beyond what the federal constitution requires:
"Importantly, like Miller and Montgomery, our holding today does not preclude the States from imposing additional sentencing limits in cases involving defendants under 18 convicted of murder. States may categorically prohibit life without parole for all offenders under 18. Or States may require sentencers to make extra factual findings before sentencing an offender under 18 to life without parole.
"Or states may direct sentencers to formally explain on the record why a life-without-parole sentence is appropriate notwithstanding the defendant’s youth. States may also establish rigorous proportionality or other substantive appellate review of life-without-parole sentences. All of those options, and others, remain available to the states."