Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its opinion in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 193 L. Ed. 2d 599, 622 (2016), which made the holding of Miller v. Alabama, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407, 424 (2012), retroactive. Miller, of course, held that mandatory life without parole sentences for juvenile defendants violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. However, Miller also laid the groundwork for the Court’s determination in Montgomery that a discretionary life without parole sentence also violates the Eighth Amendment “for a child whose crime reflects ‘unfortunate yet transient immaturity.’” Montgomery, 193 L. Ed. 2d at 619 (quoting Miller, 567 U.S. at ___, 183 L. Ed. 2d at 424).
To help attorneys prepare for these hearings, a working group of attorneys from the Office of the Juvenile Defender, the Office of the Capital Defender, the Office of the Appellate Defender, and North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services has developed a handout entitled, “Strategies for Litigating Miller Cases.” The handout provides advice for obtaining mitigating evidence, a description of the research that influenced Miller and Montgomery, a discussion of constitutional arguments against life without parole sentences, and much more. The handout also provides hyperlinks to sample motions and other resources that will aid attorneys as they defend their clients in these cases.
However, for the juvenile defense bar, the handout’s usefulness is not limited to cases involving litigation of a life without parole sentence for a juvenile who is 16 or 17 years old or a 13-, 14-, or 15-year-old who has been transferred to superior court on a first degree murder charge. Many juvenile defense attorneys have to defend their 13-,14-, and 15-year-old clients from discretionary transfer to the adult system if they have been charged with a serious felony and the district attorney requests transfer. The handout provides arguments and resources that can be used to argue against transfer during the discretionary transfer hearing. Counsel should follow the advice in sections III, IV, and VI in the handout to present a comprehensive view of the juvenile to the court and argue that the juvenile should remain in juvenile court in order to receive treatment and rehabilitation that is unavailable in superior court.
If you are appointed to handle a case involving a new first-degree murder charge against a juvenile client or your client may be subjected to discretionary transfer, please be sure to review the handout, which is available in the “Transfer Hearings” section on the Office of the Juvenile Defender website and the “Litigation Guides” section on the Appellate Defender website. In addition, if you are interested in joining a listserv about Miller issues, please send an email to David Andrews, Assistant Appellate Defender, at David.W.Andrews@nccourts.org. The listserv will enable attorneys in the working group to post new appellate court decisions on Miller issues and provide a forum for questions on Miller cases. Finally, please stay tuned for announcements on training events for Miller cases. Over the next several months, the working group will develop presentations on Miller issues and will work to share those presentations to attorneys across the state.