SCOTUS extends ruling on life sentences for juvenile offenders

In a 6-3 vote on Monday, the Supreme Court extended a 2012 ruling, Miller v. Alabama, which empowers inmates receiving life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as juveniles to petition for re-sentencing or request parole.

The case in front of the High Court, Montgomery v. Louisiana, ruled Mr. Montgomery had not been correctly refused effect to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama.

For more than a half century, Mr. Montgomery, 69, has been incarcerated for the 1963 murder of Charles Hunt Jr., a Baton Rouge police officer charged with netting truants.

Mr. Montgomery was 17 at the time of his arrest, was racked with developmental disabilities and was steered by a 70 IQ.

In reversing the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision, the Supreme Court will allow Mr. Montgomery to seek a new sentence or petition for a parole hearing.

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:

“Prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.”

Characterizing the majority opinion as “astonishing” and a legal “sleight of hand,” Justice Antonin Scalia, writing in dissent, entered into record:

“(The ruling) is just a devious way of eliminating life without parole for juvenile offenders.”

Monday’s ruling, however, does not disallow the court system from imposing life sentences on juveniles without the possibility of parole.  As with recent rulings, the Supreme Court has indicated such sentences are legal and just, but in cases where there is a particular heinousness to the offense.

Analysis

This is six justices demonstrating the capacity to extend grace rather than exacting further retribution.

Diminished capacity notwithstanding, 50 years for a crime committed at age 17 is sufficient.

Regrettably, the court system is not a strict moral surrogate.  In the absence of a flawless legal structure, justices are entrusted with the function of upholding equity, righteousness and ethics to evade all insults to popular democracy.

Without impugning Louisiana Supreme Court or the justices in dissent, affirming the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision in this specific case would have been completely intellectually indefensible.

Wisdom can be found in the most unlikely places.  In Montgomery v. Louisiana, both wisdom and justice was found in a body where it is expected most often.

 

[scotusblog.com] [The Washington Post] [Associated Press] [Photo courtesy witnessdirectory.com]