On May 12, 2014, the NHCLU filed a “friend-of-the court” brief on behalf of itself, six other organizations, and four professors at the University of New Hampshire School of Law asking the New Hampshire Supreme Court to end this state’s cruel and unusual practice of sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole (“JLWOP”).
In the U.S. each year, children as young as 13 are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison without any opportunity for release. To date, approximately 2,570 children have been sentenced to JLWOP in the U.S. Despite the global consensus that children cannot be held to the same standards of responsibility as adults and recognition that children are entitled to special protection and treatment, the U.S. continues to allow children to be treated and punished as adults. The U.S. is the only country in the world that engages in this inhumane practice. Unfortunately, this practice exists in New Hampshire, and there are currently four New Hampshire defendants who have received JLWOP sentences for crimes they committed when they were children.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. __, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), struck down state regimes (like the one in N.H.) that mandates a JLWOP sentence for children convicted of first-degree murder, concluding that this practice violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” However, the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller stopped short of categorically finding all JLWOP sentences unconstitutional.
In our amicus brief, we argue two points. First, we contend that the Miller decision applies retroactively to the four New Hampshire children who were sentenced to JLWOP prior to the issuance of the Miller decision. Second, we argue that, as a categorical matter, JLWOP sentences violate Part I, Article 33 of the New Hampshire Constitution, which bans “cruel or unusual punishments.”
On August 29, 2014, the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that the Miller decision applies retroactively.