Following SCOTUS Ruling, Child Advocacy Clinic Addresses Life-Without-Parole Sentences for Juveniles

February 6, 2015

In June 2012, in the case of Miller v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to mandatory life-without-parole. Miller was the third Supreme Court case in seven years to hold that juveniles are constitutionally different from adults due to their lack of maturity, vulnerability to negative influences, and capacity for change. The decision invalidated sentencing laws in 28 states, including Minnesota. What Miller did not address, however, is what these states should do to comply with the ruling and whether it applies to the more than 2,100 inmates across the country who were already serving such sentences.

In early 2013, the University of Minnesota Child Advocacy and Juvenile Justice Clinic, under the leadership of Professor Perry Moriearty, took on the representation of two of the eight Minnesota inmates serving sentences of mandatory life-without-parole for juvenile offenses; Professor Bradford Colbert of William Mitchell College of Law is part of this ongoing effort, as well. Over the past two years, clinic students have written numerous legal motions and memoranda, conducted extensive interviews, and begun to create client life histories in anticipation of resentencing. In late 2013, the clinic filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on behalf of one client, asking the court to clarify that Miller must be applied retroactively to his case. In May 2014, the court granted the petition, becoming one of the first federal courts in the country to hold that Miller applies retroactively to cases on collateral review, meaning the petitioner’s sentence is in violation of the United States Constitution. The case is currently pending before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Multiple students from the Child Advocacy and Juvenile Justice Clinic have worked with Moriearty on these cases, including Lindee Balgaard (’14), Jordon Greenlee (’15), Nate Hainje (’14), Carolyn Isaac (’16), Christopher Land (’16), Ashleigh Leitch (’14), and Caitlin Maly (’15). Several students have also helped draft and generate support for legislation to replace Minnesota’s invalidated sentencing provisions.

Front row: Jordon Greenlee (’15), Prof. Perry Moriearty, and Christopher Land (’16); Back row: Caitlin Maly (’15) and Co-director of the Child Advocacy and Juvenile Justice Clinic Prof. Jean Sanderson
Front row: Jordon Greenlee (’15), Prof. Perry Moriearty, and Christopher Land (’16); Back row: Caitlin Maly (’15) and Co-director of the Child Advocacy and Juvenile Justice Clinic Prof. Jean Sanderson

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