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Whether Eighth Amendment Requires Finding that a Juvenile is Permanently Incorrigible Before Imposing an LWOP Sentence

Whether the Eighth Amendment requires the sentencing authority to make a finding that a juvenile is permanently incorrigible before imposing a sentence of life without parole.

Held: "Under Miller v. Alabama, 567 U. S. 460, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407 (2012), an individual who commits a homicide when he or she is under 18 may be sentenced to life without parole, but only if the sentence is not mandatory and the sentencer therefore has discretion to impose a lesser punishment. In this case, a Mississippi trial judge acknowledged his sentencing discretion under Miller and then sentenced petitioner Brett Jones to life without parole for a murder that Jones committed when he was under 18. The Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the discretionary sentencing procedure satisfied Miller.

"Jones argues, however, that a sentencer's discretion to impose a sentence less than life without parole does not alone satisfy Miller. Jones contends that a sentencer who imposes a life-without-parole sentence must also make a separate factual finding that the defendant is permanently incorrigible, or at least provide an on-the-record sentencing explanation with an implicit finding that the defendant is permanently incorrigible. And Jones says that the trial judge did not make such a finding in his case.

"Jones's argument that the sentencer must make a finding of permanent incorrigibility is inconsistent with the Court's precedents. In Miller, the Court mandated "only that a sentencer follow a certain process--considering an offender's youth and attendant characteristics--before imposing" a life-without-parole sentence. Id., at 483, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407. And in Montgomery v. Louisiana, which held that Miller applies retroactively on collateral review, the Court flatly stated that "Miller did not impose a formal factfinding requirement" and added that "a finding of fact regarding a child's incorrigibility . . . is not required." 577 U. S. 190, 211, 136 S. Ct. 718, 193 L. Ed. 2d 599 (2016). In light of that explicit language in the Court's prior decisions, we must reject Jones's argument. We affirm the judgment of the Mississippi Court of Appeals." (Jones v. Mississippi (2020) __ U.S. __ (18-1259).) This case was decided on 4/22/2021.

Updated: 4/22/2021

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