Sentencing Juveniles in Louisiana after Miller v. Alabama

The Louisiana Supreme Court recently held that a district court must reconsider a case involving a seventeen year old who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for second degree murder under a mandated penalty provision of a statute. See State of Louisiana v. Darrius R. Williams, 12-1723 (La. 03/08/13), –So.3d—. The defendant’s application for review to the Louisiana Supreme Court was pending when, Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), was decided by the United States Supreme Court.

In Miller, the United States Supreme Court found that “the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.” The Miller Court additionally stated that “[a]lthough we do not foreclose a sentencer’s ability to make that judgment in homicide cases, we require it to take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.” Miller, 567 U.S. at ____, 132 S. Ct. at 2469.

The Williams Court found that “the Miller court did not establish a categorical prohibition against life without parole for juveniles” in homicide cases but did establish the requirement “that a sentencing court consider an offender’s youth, and attendant characteristics as mitigating circumstances before deciding to impose” a life sentence without the possibility of parole on a juvenile.” The requirement to consider the age and attendant characteristics of juveniles as mitigating circumstances before sentencing is the Williams Court’s interpretation of Miller’s mandate that the sentencer “take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.” Id.

On remand, the district court is to reconsider the sentence of a juvenile to life in prison without the possibility of parole “after conducting a new sentencing hearing in accordance with the principles enunciated in Miller v. Alabama.” State v. Williams, (La. 03/08/13), — So.3d at —.