Juvenile Justice Quarterly

This article appeared in the Juvenile Justice Quarterly, Issue 8, March 2014. (Full newsletter in pdf)

From the Courts

Since the United States Supreme Court declared mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles was unconstitutional in, Miller v. Alabama, state legislatures and courts have been addressing the questions left open by the case, including whether or not it applies retroactivity and what sentences should be imposed in its place.

Twelve states have enacted laws in response to the Miller ruling—Arkansas, California, Delaware, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming—and several others have considered pending measures. In addition to this legislative attention, state courts also have addressed the issues faced by their juvenile life without parole populations.  

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled on two cases impacting juvenile life without parole sentences in the Commonwealth on Dec. 24, 2013.  In Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist., the court found that the Miller holding should be applied retroactively and ruled that both mandatory and discretionary juvenile life without parole sentences violated the state’s Declaration of Rights. Prior to Diatchenko and Commonwealth v. Brown, Massachusetts law required juveniles 14 years of age and older who committed first degree murder to be sentenced to mandatory life without parole. The court removed the unconstitutional sections of state law and applied the next highest sentence: life with the possibility of parole after 15 years.

The Illinois Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the case of Adolfo Davis, who is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for a crime committed in 1990 when he was 14, and is expected to issue its ruling on these issues in the coming months.