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U.S. Supreme Court Hears Case That May Impact California Juveniles Serving Life Sentences

Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case that could have broad implications for juveniles who are serving life sentences for a California murder conviction.

The case, Jones. v. Mississippi, involves a defendant who stabbed his grandfather to death when he was just 15 years old. After the jury found the defendant guilty, the judge sentenced him to what was then a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The defendant’s convictions were affirmed on appeal. However, in a petition for post-conviction relief, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted the defendant’s request for a resentencing, solely to determine if he should ever be eligible for parole.

After the court granted the defendant’s resentencing request, but before the sentencing hearing, the U.S. Supreme Court released a monumental opinion regarding JLWOP cases (juvenile life without the possibility of parole). The case was Miller v. Alabama, in which the court held that a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole for a juvenile offender violates the Eighth Amendment’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Coming back to the Jones case. At the resentencing, the state court considered Miller and applied the Supreme Court’s reasoning, but again sentenced the defendant to life without the possibility of parole.

The defendant appealed his resentencing decision. The defendant’s appeal is based on another U.S. Supreme Court case, involving a juvenile convicted for murder and serving a mandatory life sentence. In the case, Montgomery v. Louisiana, the court held that life without the possibility of parole should be reserved for “the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.”

Thus, the defendant argued that he presented important evidence at the resentencing hearing suggesting he could be rehabilitated. The defendant argued that the state court essentially ignored the evidence indicating his possible rehabilitation, which, the defendant claimed, it needed to consider under Montgomery.

The state’s position is that the Eighth Amendment does not require a finding that a juvenile cannot be rehabilitated, and only that the sentencing judge “consider the mitigating circumstances of youth before sentencing a juvenile to life without parole.”

Thus, the case boils down to the question posed in the defendant’s brief: “Whether the Eighth Amendment requires a sentencing authority to find that a juvenile is permanently incorrigible before it may impose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole?” The Court heard oral argument on November 3, 2020, and an opinion is expected within the first half of 2021.

Are You Serving a Life Sentence for a California Murder Conviction?

If you are currently serving a decades-long sentence, or a life sentence, you may be able to obtain a new sentencing hearing through one of several relatively new laws. Both state and federal lawmakers are beginning to recognize the current level of over-incarceration, and have passed laws to make obtaining resentencing hearings easier than it used to be. At Barhoma Law, we handle all types of California post-conviction relief petitions and appeals. To learn more, call 213-800-7664 to schedule a free consultation today.

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