Montgomery v. Louisiana

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Montgomery v. Louisiana
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued October 13, 2015
Decided January 25, 2016
Full case nameHenry Montgomery, Petitioner v. Louisiana
Docket no.14-280
Citations577 U.S. ___ (more)
136 S. Ct. 718; 193 L. Ed. 2d 599
ArgumentOral argument
Case history
Priorannulling verdict, 181 So. 2d 756 (1966), affirming life sentence, 242 So.2d 818 (1970), denying motion to correct illegal sentence, 141 So.3d 264 (2014).
Subsequentvacating sentence and remanding, 194 So.3d 606 (2016).
Miller's prohibition on life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders is a substantive rule that must be applied retroactively.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Case opinions
MajorityKennedy, joined by Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan
DissentScalia, joined by Thomas, Alito
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. VIII

Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. ___ (2016), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that its previous ruling in Miller v. Alabama (2012),[1] that a mandatory life sentence without parole should not apply to persons convicted of murder committed as juveniles, should be applied retroactively. This decision potentially affects up to 2,300 cases nationwide.

This case is one in a series since 2005 that have mitigated the harshness of sentencing of juveniles and persons who committed crimes as juveniles. It is based in part on scientific evidence showing that juvenile brains are not equivalent to those of adults.



Roper v. Simmons (2005), the Supreme Court of the United States by a 5-4 vote established that the death penalty for children under 18 was unconstitutional. In Graham v. Florida (2010), the Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to impose mandatory life sentence without parole on prisoners who committed non-murder crimes as juveniles.

Two years later, in Miller v. Alabama (2012), the Court by a 5-4 vote decided that mandatory life sentence without parole should not apply to persons who committed the crime as juveniles.[2][3]


Henry Montgomery was 17 years old in 1963 when he shot and killed a police officer in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana.[4] A jury convicted Montgomery of murder and sentenced him to death but, in January 1966, the divided Louisiana Supreme Court annulled that verdict, finding he had not received a fair trial due to public prejudice.[5] In October 1966, Montgomery escaped from the parish jail and was rearrested two hours later.[6]

In February 1969, a jury again convicted Montgomery of murder, triggering an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole, which was affirmed by the Louisiana Supreme Court in November 1970, over the dissent of Justice Mack Barham.[6]

Montgomery became a model member of the prison community, serving as a coach on the prison boxing team, working in the prison’s silk-screen program, and offering advice to younger inmates.[7] After the U.S. Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama, Montgomery made a motion to correct an illegal sentence, which, in June 2014, was denied by the Louisiana Supreme Court, over the dissent of Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson.[8]

Supreme Court of the United States[edit]

In September 2014, Montgomery filed a petition for a writ of certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court, which was granted.[9] Seventy-five minutes of oral arguments were heard on October 13, 2015, with attorneys appearing for the prisoner and the state as well as an amicus curiae appointed by the Court, arguing against the Court's jurisdiction, and the U.S. Deputy Solicitor General, arguing as a friend of the prisoner.[10]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

On January 25, 2016, the Supreme Court delivered judgment in favor of the prisoner, by a vote of 6-3.[7] Writing for the Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, applied the Miller v. Alabama rule retroactively, holding that prisoners previously given automatic life sentences with no chance of parole for crimes committed as juveniles must have their cases reviewed for re-sentencing or be considered for parole.[11]

The Court first found that it had jurisdiction over Louisiana's prisoner because the rule governing retroactivity is constitutional, not statutory.[11] Next, Justice Kennedy wrote that "prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored."[12] Applying the presumption from Teague v. Lane (1989) that a new rule is not retroactive on collateral review unless it is substantive or "watershed", Kennedy said the decision was founded on substantive grounds, based "on the diminished culpability of all juvenile offenders, who are, he said, immature, susceptible to peer pressure and capable of change.[11] Very few, he said, are incorrigible. But he added that as a general matter the punishment was out of bounds."[7]


Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito respectfully dissented.[11] Criticizing the majority's "sleight of hand", Scalia wrote that Kennedy had twisted the language in the Miller decision to make it sound categorical when it merely required a new sentencing procedure.[11] Scalia also stated that it would be very difficult for judges and juries to decide whether defendants were incorrigible decades after they were originally sentenced.[12]

Justice Thomas filed another dissenting opinion, alone, stating that the majority's decision "repudiates established principles of finality".[13]

Subsequent developments[edit]

On June 28, 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court vacated Montgomery's life sentence and remanded for resentencing in a per curiam decision, with Justice Scott Crichton additionally concurring.[14]

In February 2017, Montgomery, now 70 years old, remained a prisoner at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.[15] In February 2018 and April 2019, Montgomery had parole hearings, and was denied both times.[16][17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012).
  2. ^ Savage, David G. (25 June 2012). "Supreme Court rules mandatory juvenile life without parole cruel and unusual". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  3. ^ The Supreme Court, 2011 Term — Leading Cases, 126 Harv. L. Rev. 276 (2012).
  4. ^ Dahlia Lithwick (2015-10-14). "Is Life Retroactive? He was sentenced to life without parole at 17. Fifty years later, the Supreme Court weighs setting him free". Slate.
  5. ^ State v. Montgomery, 181 So. 2d 756, 248 La. 713 (1966).
  6. ^ a b State v. Montgomery, 242 So. 2d 818, 257 La. 461 (1970).
  7. ^ a b c Adam Liptak (26 January 2016). "Justices Expand Parole Rights for Juveniles Sentenced to Life for Murder". The New York Times. p. A18. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  8. ^ State v. Montgomery, 141 So. 3d 264 (La. 2014).
  9. ^ "Montgomery v. Louisiana". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  10. ^ "Montgomery v. Louisiana". IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.
  11. ^ a b c d e The Supreme Court, 2015 Term — Leading Cases, 130 Harv. L. Rev. 377 (2016).
  12. ^ a b Sherman, Mark (January 25, 2016). "Justices Extend Bar on Automatic Life Terms for Teenagers". ABC News. Associated Press.
  13. ^ "Supreme Court rules in major Eighth Amendment sentencing case". Yahoo! News. January 26, 2016.
  14. ^ State v. Montgomery, 194 So. 3d 606 (La. 2016).
  15. ^ Berman, Douglas A. (3 February 2017). "Sentencing Law and Policy: Lamenting that Henry Montgomery (and many other juve LWOPers) may not much or any benefit from Montgomery". Sentencing Law and Policy Blog. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  16. ^ Toohey, Grace (2018-02-19). "Board denies parole to man who served more than 50 years after killing deputy when he was juvenile". The Advocate. Retrieved 2019-06-02.
  17. ^ Segura, Liliana (2019-06-02). "Henry Montgomery Paved the Way for Other Juvenile Lifers to Go Free. Now 72, He May Never Get the Same Chance". The Intercept. Retrieved 2019-06-02.

External links[edit]