In a victory for juvenile justice, the New Hampshire Supreme Court held on August 29, 2014 that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. __, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), applies retroactively to four people in New Hampshire who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole for crimes they committed while they were juveniles.
In Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state regimes (like the one in New Hampshire) mandating a life-without-parole sentence for children convicted of first-degree murder, concluding that this practice violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” As the New Hampshire Supreme Court held, Miller is a “substantive” rule and therefore must be applied retroactively because it “altered the range of [sentencing] outcomes for juveniles … by allowing a sentencer to consider a punishment other than life in prison without the possibility of parole.”
The NHCLU commends the New Hampshire Supreme Court for affirming the principle that, as any parent knows, children are different than adults and therefore should constitutionally be treated differently when being sentenced. As science has proven, children are more capable of rehabilitation as they grow older, and they lack the maturity to understand the full capacity of their acts.
Unfortunately, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller and the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s decision applying Miller retroactively, life-without-parole sentences for juveniles can still be imposed after the juvenile’s youth and other mitigating factors are considered. 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 life without parole 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. This is wrong, and the U.S. is the only country in the world that engages in this cruel practice of locking up children for life. Not even Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria do this.
Watch this powerful video and learn more below about how the ACLU is fighting to protect children from this shameful practice.