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Note: Treating Adults Like Children: Re-Sentencing Adult Juvenile Lifers After Miller v. Alabama

By Brianna H. Boone. Full text here.

Miller v. Alabama continued the trend in Supreme Court cases finding that juvenile criminal offenders are less culpable than adult offenders, by holding that states cannot sentence juvenile offenders to mandatory life without parole. The Court held that it is cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a juvenile to life without parole without taking youthfulness characteristics into account. The Court particularly stressed that juveniles’ transitory, unsettled personalities, and their greater potential for reform must be taken into account before sentencing a juvenile to life without parole. When Miller was decided, there were at least 2,100 prisoners serving time who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole as juveniles, and now states are struggling with answering the question of if and how to re-sentence these juvenile lifers in accordance with Miller. Although the Supreme Court will likely soon resolve the question of if juvenile lifers need to be re-sentenced after Miller, as states are currently divided on this issue, the question of how to re-sentence juvenile lifers is more difficult to answer. Many current juvenile lifers have been in prison for at least a decade, and are no longer juveniles. As a result, the foundational principle in Miller, that juveniles’ have the potential for reform and their sentences should take this into account, no longer applies to these offenders. In theory, we already know if the crimes these offenders committed as juveniles were just youthful indiscretions or evidence of permanent incorrigibility. This Note argues that it is paradoxical to re-sentence juvenile lifers who are now adults by taking youthfulness characteristics into account. It is moot for a court to determine that a lower sentence than life without parole is warranted because of the juvenile offender’s transitory personality when the offender no longer has a transitory personality. This Note critiques current efforts by state courts to re-sentence juvenile lifers, and. It proposes that instead of conducting true re-sentencing hearings, which look at the offenders’ crimes at the time they were committed, that we conduct “hybrid hearings.” Hybrid hearings would combine sentencing and parole hearings, and courts would look at some of the “youthfulness” characteristics from Miller as related to the crime, but also the offender’s current characteristics. This allows the court to address the transitory personality characteristic ex-post, while avoiding the problem a simple re-sentencing hearing presents when addressing this characteristic.