Juvenile Law Center

Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Montgomery v. Louisiana

Juvenile Law Center was co-counsel in Montgomery v. Louisiana, a case before the U.S. Supreme Court addressing the question of whether Miller v. Alabama (2012) applies retroactively to individuals serving mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences. Though Miller found that mandatory life without parole sentences are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders, several states (including Louisiana) have refused to apply Miller to older cases where the conviction was final before the Supreme Court's 2012 decision. Juvenile Law Center and our co-counsel argue that Henry Montgomery, who received a mandatory life without parole sentence for a crime that occurred when he was a juvenile, is entitled to a resentencing hearing in which his age, immaturity, and capacity for rehabilitation can be considered.

In November 1963, more than a half century ago, Mr. Montgomery, then a 17-year-old eleventh-grade student, was arrested for the murder of a sheriff’s deputy in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Against the backdrop of racial tension and turmoil that included reported cross burnings, Mr. Montgomery, a black youth, was tried and convicted for the murder of the white law enforcement officer. He originally received an automatic death sentence.

In 1966, this original conviction and sentence of death were overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which found that “the feelings which existed prior to trial… permeated the atmosphere and prejudiced [Mr. Montgomery]…. [N]o one could reasonably say that the verdict and sentence were lawfully obtained.”

Mr. Montgomery was again tried and convicted of murder. In his second trial, he received a mandatory life without parole sentence.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama outlawing mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of homicide offenses, Mr. Montgomery filed a post-conviction motion to correct his sentence, but Louisiana Supreme Court held that Miller did not apply retroactively to Mr. Montgomery.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted Mr. Montgomery’s petition for certiorari. Juvenile Law Center represented Mr. Montgomery in this appeal, along with Mark Plaisance of the East Baton Rouge Parish Office of the Public Defender and Professor Jeffrey Pokorak of Suffolk University. 

In January 2016, in a key win for individuals nationwide who are serving life without parole sentences for crimes committed as children, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Montgomery v. Louisiana that their 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, barring mandatory life without parole sentences for youth, applies retroactively.

At resentencing, the trial court ordered Mr. Montgomery be immediately made parole eligible.

Further Reading

"The Meaning of Life Without Parole," Clint Smith, The New Yorker, 2/8/2016.

"A Week of Stunning Victories for Youth Justice," Marsha Levick, Open Society Foundations, 1/29/2016.

"New Rules For Juveniles In the Criminal Justice System," Guest Host: Indira Lakshmanan, NPR, The Diane Rehm Show, 1/27/2016.

"The Supreme Court's good news for juveniles sentenced to life," Micheal McGough, Los Angeles Times, 1/26/2016.

"Big Changes Coming For Some Prisoners" – Guest: Marsha Levick - deputy director and chief counsel of Juvenile Law Center, Here & Now – WBUR Radio (Boston, MA), 1/26/2016.

"Iowa's Heartland, Abortion Politics, and Juvenile Sentencing," Press Play with Madeleine Brand – KCRW-FM (Los Angeles, CA), 1/26/2016

"Supreme Court endorses reviews of mandatory life sentences for juveniles," Ariane de Vogue, CNN online, 1/25/2016.

"Supreme Court: Life sentences on juveniles open for later reviews," Robert Barnes, The Washington Post (DC), 1/25/2016.

"Court Decision Brings Hope, Uncertainty for Juveniles Sentenced to Life," Sarah Barr, et. al, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, 1/25/2016.

"Juveniles convicted of murder as adults can get chance at parole, U.S. Supreme Court rules in Baton Rouge case," Joe Gyan Jr., The Advocate (LA), 1/25/2016.

"After Supreme Court ruling, 'juvenile lifers' now have chance for new hearings," Bobby Allyn, Newsworks – WHYY (Philadelphia, PA), 1/25/2016.


136 S. Ct. 718 (2016)
Case Number
July 22, 2015
Supreme Court of the United States
State of Origin

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