Jones v. Mississippi
Whether the Eighth Amendment requires the sentencing authority to make a finding that a juvenile is permanently incorrigible before imposing a sentence of life without parole.Advocates
- David M. Shapiro, for the petitioner
- Krissy C. Nobile, for the respondent
- Frederick Liu, for the United States as amicus curiae
Petitioner, Brett Jones, was convicted of murder in 2005 after killing his grandfather in 2004. Brett was fifteen years old when he committed the crime, and the judge sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”). In 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments bar mandatory sentences of LWOP for juveniles. The Mississippi Supreme Court vacated Brett’s sentence, but he was once again sentenced to LWOP on remand. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Montgomery v. Louisiana that Miller applied retroactively. Montgomery said that Miller barred LWOP for all juvenile offenders other than those “whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility,” a bar that was substantive and thus fell within an exception to the Teague v. Lane non-retroactivity of new rules on habeas corpus.
One important issue that arose during argument concerned the nature of the procedure to which Miller and Montgomery entitled Brett Jones but which he never received. Montgomery itself said that “Miller did not impose a formal factfinding requirement,” so petitioner could not argue entitlement to a formal factfinding. The Chief Justice at the beginning of argument asked what petitioner wanted, and it was critical to offer a clear response that kept faith with both Miller and Montgomery. What he said was that the sentencing judge did not understand his obligation to limit LWOP to incorrigible youths, pursuant to Miller and Montgomery. Given the judge’s lack of understanding, it was therefore incumbent upon him to offer some statement about the requirement that before imposing LWOP he must find the defendant incorrigible. This answer, while accurate enough, might have left the Justices without a clear statement of what exactly trial judges must do at sentencing to comply with Miller and Montgomery.Jones v. Mississippi on Oyez: https://www.oyez.org/cases/2020/18-1259