U.S. Supreme Court’s Holding In Montgomery V. Louisiana



On January 25, 2016, the United States Supreme Court handed down a ruling which will give many homicide offenders who were under the age of 18 at the time of their offense, an opportunity for parole, retroactively, although their convictions and sentences have been finalized.  In a majority 6-3 opinion, the court decided Montgomery v. Louisiana, 2016 U.S. LEXIS 862, which comprehensively visited whether the holdings in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), relating to the violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution for the imposition of a mandatory life imprisonment sentence for juvenile homicide offenders, should be applied retroactively.  The Montgomery court dispelled any doubt that such offenders, who were then juveniles at the time of their offense, could petition courts for relief in the form of consideration for parole, pursuing their Eighth Amendment violation claims in light of Miller, retroactively.

 In Montgomery v. Louisiana, the defendant was 17 years old, who in 1963, killed a deputy sheriff in Louisiana, and was given a mandatory life sentence for such.  In 2012, when the  U.S. Supreme Court held in Miller that mandatory life imprisonment sentences for juvenile homicide offenders violated the Eighth Amendment, Montgomery had been in prison for nearly 50 years.  In Montgomery, the only question for the court was whether Miller should be applied retroactively, that is, to defendants whose convictions and sentences were finalized on direct appeal prior to the grant of Miller.  Although the State of Louisiana, coupled with an amicus curiae, adamantly opposed retroactive application of Miller in Montgomery, the court’s ultimate holding was that offenders who have suffered Eighth Amendment violations in light of Miller should enjoy retroactive application of Miller to seek relief therefrom to ameliorate their sentence.

 The Ex Post Facto clause of the U.S. Constitution forbids applying new laws retrospectively, which impose heightened liability and sentences, to those individuals who committed their offense prior to the passage of the new law. Conversely, applying a new law, retrospectively which helps an offender, but whose conviction and sentence has become final in the appellate forum, is often times a much more difficult inquiry.  In the latter scenario, retroactive effect can be granted when new laws establish:  (1) new substantive rules of constitutional law (substantive rules include “rules forbidding criminal punishment of certain primary conduct,” as well as “rules prohibiting a certain category of punishment for a class of defendants because of their status or offense.”); or (2) “new watershed rules of criminal procedure implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.” (See Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 307, 312-313 (1989).)

 Montgomery recognized that Miller announced a substantive rule of constitutional law. Noteworthy, Montgomery announced that: “a penalty imposed pursuant to an unconstitutional law is no less void because the prisoner’s sentence became final before the law was held unconstitutional….  There is no grandfather clause that permits states to enforce punishments the Constitution forbids.”  Furthermore, Montgomery reasoned: “where state collateral review proceedings permit prisoner’s to challenge the lawfulness of their confinement, states cannot refuse to give retroactive effect to a substantive constitutional right that determines the outcome of that challenge.”

 It should be noted, that Miller, nor its progeny, announce that all juvenile homicide offenders are totally precluded from receiving a life imprisonment sentence for such an offense;  but rather, Miller does proscribe that sentencing judges are vested with discretion to deviate from any mandatory statutory sentencing machinery so that the court may make  a more searching inquiry as the particular offender’s character and childhood, to ascertain if the court’s convinced that the offense was, more than not, a product of the juvenile’s immaturity, recklessness, or impetuosity as opposed to an offender’s cemented maliciousness and inability to change in the future.

At the Law Offices of Roy Galloway LLC, we offer comprehensive representation to warrant reduced sentences to those offenders serving life sentences who committed their offenses prior to age 18.  We are committed to ending the separation between you and your loved one which occurred perhaps decades ago due to immaturity and indiscretions. 

 Second chances are synonymous with human error, but what you do now is the defining moment.  That is why you should not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Roy Galloway LLC today at (717) 737-3300.  Relief sought is relief deserved!