In the United States of America, the juvenile justice system has become more civilized in the past eight years. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the death penalty for juveniles. In 2010, the high court banned mandatory life sentences for minors convicted of non-homicide offenses such as aggravated rape. The Miller vs. Alabama decision of June 25, 2012 held that mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers run afoul of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and are therefore unconstitutional. Louisiana was one of 28 states, which had made no difference between youthful offenders and adult offenders.
It was clear from that day that there would be a run on the courts in Louisiana by convicted juvenile murderers seeking resentencing. Around 250 prisoners, who were under the age of 18 when they committed homicides, are affected in that state alone. One of the cases before the Louisiana Supreme Court was State of Louisiana v. Darryl Tate . Tate was sentenced to life without parole for second degree murder in 1981. His case and sentence became final in 1984. The question now was whether the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Miller should be applied to juvenile offenders whose life sentences were handed down before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its June 25, 2012 decision.
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, who disagrees with the majority opinion of her court, rephrased, “Should Miller apply retroactively to cases on collateral review?” She finds that “Miller announced a new rule of criminal procedure that is substantive and consequently should apply retroactively, entitling Mr. Tate to relief.”
Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll (who had prosecuted Vincent Simmons when she was her husband’s first assistant district attorney in Avoyelles Parish) wrote the majority opinion. She argued, “Miller does not apply retroactively in cases on collateral review as it merely sets forth a new rule of criminal constitutional procedure, which is neither substantive nor implicative of the fundamental fairness and accuracy of criminal proceedings.” In other words: In Knoll’s view, it is fair that not all juvenile lifers are eligible for parole in her state.
Yet, the courts of the neighboring State of Mississippi, for instance, have decided in their state as Chief Justice Johnson and Associate Justice Jefferson Hughes would have wanted their colleagues to do, too. It still is as it has been before: Many, many motions would not be necessary, if judges from lower courts respected the decisions of the higher courts. Vincent Simmons put it so well years ago: Why do state judges not simply follow the lead by the United States Supreme Court? According to the Times-Picayune, legal experts say that the conflict among the states means the U.S. Supreme Court likely must revisit the Miller decision.
Follow the case of Darryl Tate on the IIPPI Forum.