Montgomery v. Louisiana
Juvenile Law Center was co-counsel in Montgomery v. Louisiana, a case before the U.S. Supreme Court addressing the question of whether Miller v. Alabama (2012) applies retroactively to individuals serving mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences. Though Miller found that mandatory life without parole sentences are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders, several states (including Louisiana) have refused to apply Miller to older cases where the conviction was final before the Supreme Court's 2012 decision. Juvenile Law Center and our co-counsel argue that Henry Montgomery, who received a mandatory life without parole sentence for a crime that occurred when he was a juvenile, is entitled to a resentencing hearing in which his age, immaturity, and capacity for rehabilitation can be considered.
In November 1963, more than a half century ago, Mr. Montgomery, then a 17-year-old eleventh-grade student, was arrested for the murder of a sheriff’s deputy in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Against the backdrop of racial tension and turmoil that included reported cross burnings, Mr. Montgomery, a black youth, was tried and convicted for the murder of the white law enforcement officer. He originally received an automatic death sentence.
In 1966, this original conviction and sentence of death were overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which found that “the feelings which existed prior to trial… permeated the atmosphere and prejudiced [Mr. Montgomery]…. [N]o one could reasonably say that the verdict and sentence were lawfully obtained.”
Mr. Montgomery was again tried and convicted of murder. In his second trial, he received a mandatory life without parole sentence.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama outlawing mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of homicide offenses, Mr. Montgomery filed a post-conviction motion to correct his sentence, but Louisiana Supreme Court held that Miller did not apply retroactively to Mr. Montgomery.
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted Mr. Montgomery’s petition for certiorari. Juvenile Law Center represented Mr. Montgomery in this appeal, along with Mark Plaisance of the East Baton Rouge Parish Office of the Public Defender and Professor Jeffrey Pokorak of Suffolk University.
In January 2016, in a key win for individuals nationwide who are serving life without parole sentences for crimes committed as children, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Montgomery v. Louisiana that their 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, barring mandatory life without parole sentences for youth, applies retroactively.
At resentencing, the trial court ordered Mr. Montgomery be immediately made parole eligible.