The Fourth Circuit Weighs In On Miller-Montgomery "Juvenile Lifer" Issues

The Fourth Circuit recently issued an opinion in Malvo v. Mathena, dealing with Miller-Montgomery “juvenile lifer” issues that are highly relevant to the cases currently pending before the Maryland Court of Appeals. Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016) were two related Supreme Court cases, which together held that life without parole sentences are unconstitutional for all but the rare juvenile offender. For “juvenile lifers” in Maryland, the most important piece of the Fourth Circuit’s Malvo decision is the explanation for its holding that Miller and Montgomery are not limited to mandatory life without parole sentences, but rather, apply to life (without parole) sentences that are imposed discretionarily as well. In so finding, the Fourth Circuit explained that a sentencing judge violates Miller’s rule anytime it imposes a discretionary life-without-parole sentence on a juvenile homicide offender without first concluding that the offender’s crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility. This holding is paramount to the cases pending before the Maryland Court of Appeals because it strengthens the argument that a juvenile offender has a substantive right not to be incarcerated for life unless first found to be permanently incorrigible. The Malvo decision further explained that even where mitigating evidence of youth has been considered, if the sentencer was never explicitly charged with finding whether the defendant’s crimes reflected irreparable corruption or permanent incorrigibility, a decision to impose life (without parole) fails to satisfy Miller and Montgomery. Pursuant to this reasoning, a pre-Miller (i.e. pre-2012) sentencer’s consideration of the juvenile offender’s age would likely not satisfy the current constitutional standards prerequisite to sentencing a juvenile to a lifetime in prison. Based on Malvo and other defendant-friendly Miller-Montgomery decisions from jurisdictions around the country, we eagerly await the decisions from the Maryland Court of Appeals, which are scheduled to be issued before the end of the August, 2018 term.

Rachel L. Wilson, Nathans & Biddle LLP

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