Negotiating Miller Madness: Why North Carolina Gets Juvenile Resentencing Right While Other States Drop the Ball

BY Molly F. Martinson

In June of 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Miller v. Alabama that any mandatorily imposed sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional as a violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Court ruled that before juveniles may be sentenced to life without parole, the sentencing authority in each case must have the ability to consider mitigating factors of the defendant’s youth. The Miller Court remained silent, though, on the issue of whether juveniles previously sentenced to life without parole are entitled to receive new sentencing hearings. On that issue, the states have diverged.

As a result, twenty-six state legislatures faced the challenge of rewriting their criminal sentencing laws in accordance with Miller. North Carolina was one of the first states to amend its sentencing laws to comply with Miller. Unlike many other states, North Carolina’s newly enacted juvenile sentencing laws specifically allow for a retroactive application of the new laws. Thus, in North Carolina, each juvenile defendant who was sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment without parole prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller now has the opportunity for a resentencing hearing.

This Comment argues that North Carolina’s new juvenile sentencing laws—enacted in response to Miller—are the most consistent with the purpose and spirit of the Miller decision. Other states should follow North Carolina’s lead in enacting new juvenile sentencing laws that not only comply with Miller, but also allow for the retroactive application of such new laws.

DOWNLOAD PDF | 91 N.C. L. Rev.2179 (2013)