By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday the Supreme Court ruled against the State of Alabama in the case, Miller versus Alabama. In a tight 5-4 decision the nation’s highest court ruled that imposing mandatory life without parole sentences for murderers who are juveniles is unconstitutional.
Following the decision, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange released a written statement.
Attorney General Strange explained the decision: “Today, in Miller v. Alabama, a 5-4 majority of the United States Supreme Court held that the Constitution prevents the States from imposing mandatory life-without-parole sentences on murderers who commit their crimes when they are under the age of 18. We respect the Court and will of course follow its decision, but we profoundly disagree with its reasoning and result.”
AG Strange continued, “It is rare that a juvenile commits the worst kind of murder. But when this happens, the Alabama Legislature and most other American legislatures have determined that the appropriate sentence is life without parole. And they have made that sentence mandatory. Thus, it is hard to understand the Court’s ruling that this sentencing procedure is “unusual” for the purposes of the Eighth Amendment.”
The State’s courts may still give life without parole sentences, but mandatory life without parole sentences are now a thing of the past. “We are pleased that the Court rejected Mr. Miller’s broader argument that juvenile murderers can never receive life without parole. The Court instead affirmed the right of States to sentence the worst offenders to life-without-parole regardless of their age, as long as the sentence is not mandatory,” the Attorney General’s Office explained. “For this reason, we anticipate that the Court’s decision will cause less of a disruption in Alabama’s system than the one Miller had sought.”
Miller will have a new sentencing hearing, but according to AG Strange the prosecution will still be able to ask for life without parole for Mr. Miller. AG Strange said that due to the Supreme Court ruling, Alabama prosecutors will not have mandatory life without parole sentencing guidelines in murder cases where the accused was under age 18 at the time of the crime, however prosecutors will still have the ability to ask for that sentence.
Alabama prosecutors used to be able to ask for the death penalty in heinous crimes involving underage offenders; but a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruled that that also was a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which forbids “cruel and unusual punishments”.
On July 19, 2009 when he was just age 14, Evan James Miller killed his 52 year old neighbor, Cole C. Cannon, with a baseball bat in Lawrence County. Young Mr. Miller than attempted to burn the victim while the man was clinging to life. The savage beating combined with inhalation of the gasoline used for the combustion led to Mr. Cannon’s untimely death at the hands of young Mr. Miller.