The Catholic University of America

CUA Law professor Cara Drinan has published a new blog post, White House and Supreme Court Agree: Children Deserve a Shot at Redemption. See below. 

White House and Supreme Court Agree: Children Deserve a Shot at Redemption

From: The Huffington Post: The Blog
Date: January 26, 2016
Author: Cara H. Drinan


First, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court held that all individuals serving a mandatory life without parole sentence for a juvenile crime deserve a second chance. The case raised complex legal questions related to the implementation of the Court's 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama. In Miller, the Court held that states cannot impose mandatory life without parole sentences on juveniles, even juveniles convicted of homicide. Instead, the Miller Court held, states must afford juveniles an individualized sentencing hearing at which their youth and its mitigating attributes are taken into account. Moreover, the Miller Court said that life without parole sentences for any juvenile defendants should be "uncommon" given "children's diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change." Miller was a big victory for juvenile advocates, but it left open the question of what effect, if any, the ruling would have on cases settled long ago - cases like that of Henry Montgomery.

Montgomery was convicted of killing a deputy sheriff in Louisiana in 1963, when he was 17 years old. The jury in his case returned a verdict of "guilty without capital punishment," which, at the time, meant that Montgomery was automatically sentenced to life without parole. Almost 50 years later, the Supreme Court held in Miller that this kind of automatic life without parole sentence for children is cruel and unusual because it fails to recognize the fundamental ways in which children are both less culpable and more amenable to rehabilitation. This past October, Montgomery argued that individuals whose cases had been finalized before the Miller decision should also benefit from the ruling - that he and the approximately 2500 people in this nation serving life without parole for a juvenile crime all deserve an opportunity to demonstrate that they have matured and are prepared to re-enter society. And the Court, in a 6-3 opinion written by Justice Kennedy, agreed with Mr. Montgomery.

Much work remains to be done in the wake of this most recent juvenile-friendly case from the Court. States like Louisiana, that had previously not considered the retroactive application of Miller or that had outright rejected it, will now have to grapple with implementing the Montgomery ruling. They may opt to provide resentencing hearings for individuals like Montgomery, or they may choose to make individuals like Montgomery immediately parole-eligible. Either way, the Supreme Court sent a strong signal to the states (again) that children are different in the eyes of the law and that they cannot be judged exclusively by the worst mistake they've ever made.


Read the full blog post here.

Cara Drinan  

Professor Cara H. Drinan's
Areas of Expertise

Access to counsel

Indigent defense

Structural litigation


Death Penalty

For additional information about our professors' areas of speciality, see the Catholic University Experts page.