Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Life Sentence: Supreme Court of South Carolina Finds Juvenile LWOP Sentences Violated Eighth Amendment
This January, I had the chance to moot John Blume's oral argument to the Supreme Court of South Carolina in Aiken v. Byars. Aiken was a class action brought be 28 juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole before the opinion of the United States Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama. In Miller, of course, the Supreme Court held that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment."
The questions in Aiken were thus (1) whether Miller applies retroactively; and (2) whether the sentencing hearings for the 28 juveniles complied with Miller. Today, the Supreme Court of South Carolina concluded that Miller does apply retroactively and that the sentencing hearings in for these 28 juveniles did not comply with Miller. Why? According to the court,
All were sentenced to life without parole according to existing sentencing procedures, which made no distinction between defendants whose crimes were committed as an adult and those whose crimes were committed as a juvenile. In most of the sentencing hearings￼ but not all—defense counsel mentioned the age of the defendant at the time of the crime, and in some cases, there was a brief discussion of the defendant's life prior to commission of the crime.
The South Carolina Supremes held that this was not good enough and thus held that "any individual affected by our holding may file a motion for resentencing within one year from the filing of this opinion in the court of general sessions where he or she was originally sentenced."