Did you know that the state of Pennsylvania has the largest number of juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole in the country? In the United States, we have a system of law called the “common law.” This means that not all our laws and legal principles are found in written statutes; some are derived from judicial case law. In countries that follow a common-law system, the decisions of certain courts are binding, even if they are contrary to the written law. Ultimately, the decisions of the United States Supreme Court are binding in all matters, and two such decisions, Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana, changed the fabric of sentencing for juvenile offenders.

Miller v. Alabama: History and Application 

The Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama in 2012, and it addressed a case in which two 14-year-old boys were convicted of murder and the trial judge was required to sentence them to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The question presented to the court was whether such a sentence violates the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution that prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” The court answered in the affirmative and held that it was unconstitutional to mandatorily sentence a juvenile, someone under the age of 18, to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Although parole is not guaranteed, the court found that a juvenile’s diminished capacity must be considered in sentencing and that the judge and jury should at least have the opportunity to sentence an offender to life with the possibility of parole.

Montgomery v. Louisiana: Current Application 

In Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court addressed the application of Miller to juvenile offenders whose sentences had been finalized before Miller was decided. The court held that because Miller created a new rule of law under the Constitution, it was required to be retroactively applied to those who were serving sentences they might not have served under the new rule. Accordingly, if you were a juvenile and the law at the time required you to be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, you may be entitled to have your sentence overturned.

Filing for an Appeal Under Montgomery

For those who qualify for potential relief under this new rule of law, it is important to enlist the aid of a qualified Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney. If the law substantially changes while you are in prison AND the Supreme Court determines that this change can be backdated, you can invoke your new rights by filing a petition called a writ of habeas corpus within one year of the Supreme Court’s decision that changed the law. An attorney can assist you with this process, and upon filing the petition, your case will be re-evaluated by the judge who sentenced you, and you will be entitled to have your sentence vacated and make a case for a new sentence before the judge.

Contact Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Brian Zeiger 

If you believe you may qualify under these recent changes in law and have made a petition or wish to do so, contact attorney Brian Zeiger. He will work to review the specific facts of your case and help you defend against the allegations you face. Contact him today at 215-546-0340 or online for a confidential, no-risk consultation. 






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