It came out this morning before SB 1070, and therefore, it got lost in the hubbub.
States cannot hand out mandatory life without parole sentences for anyone under 18 convicted of any crime, including murder. However, this is not the same thing as out and outright prohibiting life without parole as a possible punishment for anyone under 18 who commits murder. An earlier SCOTUS decision (Graham v Florida ) totally exempts U-18s from life without parole sentences for non-homicidal crimes, and then course there is Roper v Simmons, which totally takes the death penalty off the table for U-18s. What SCOTUS is saying here with Miller v Alabama today is that state judicial systems must show flexibility in sentencing juveniles-certified-as-adults who commit murder.
However, I think the disparate impact (to borrow one of the judiciary’s favorite phrases) is that U-18 murderers will no longer get life without parole. Going forward, you know that the defense attorneys for U-18s given life sentences will drag the sentence into court on Miller v Alabama grounds every time. The states, seeking to avoid the hassle, will either give long fixed terms or life with occasional parole hearings to U-18 murder convicts.
I won’t delve into the court’s actual decision, you can read it yourself. But it seems perfectly obvious to me that this very same Supreme Court would, if given the chance, find both the death penalty and life without parole for adult criminals to be in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and almost completely gut the concept of criminal responsibility for most people under the age of 18 in most circumstances, and there’s an outside chance, using Elena Kagan’s rationale in this case as precedent, that they would pretty much exempt many blacks, juveniles or adults, from most criminal responsibility. How can you read what she has to say here and not come away thinking this?
Again, I’m not a lawyer, I’m just a well educated amateur.