Texas Court Finds Miller v. Alabama Is Retroactive

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Yesterday, Texas became the most recent state to hold that the United States Supreme Court's 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama barring mandatory life imprisonment without parole sentences for children applies retroactively to cases on collateral review.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest court on criminal law issues, determined that Miller applies retroactively to cases that have already become final because it is a substantive rule that "alters the range of outcomes available for certain criminal conduct." Rejecting the State's argument that Miller is a procedural rule that changes only the method for deciding a juvenile offender's punishment, the court observed that "[b]efore Miller, there was no method to determine whether a juvenile's conduct was punishable by life in prison without parole -- it was automatic and mandatory."

Miller "provides a sentencing court with decision making authority where there once was none -- banning mandatory life sentences with parole and requiring discretionary sentences" that can extend up to life without the possibility of parole but also include the more lenient alternatives. Miller is a substantive rule, the court concluded, because it requires that a juvenile offender "have the opportunity to establish that life without parole is not an appropriate sentence."

Noting Miller's instruction that "appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to the harshest possible penalty will be uncommon," the court vacated the petitioner's life without parole sentence and remanded his case for further sentencing proceedings.

The opinion is the latest in a line of similar decisions holding Miller is fully retroactive from Florida, Mississippi, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Illinois, and federal courts across the country.