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Court sends Arizona life-without-parole cases back to state courts

After granting review in five new cases last Friday, the Supreme Court issued additional orders from its October 28 conference this morning. The justices did not add any new cases to their merits docket for the term.

The justices returned the cases of several Arizona inmates to the state courts, instructing those courts to take another look at the cases in light of last term’s decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana. In Montgomery, the justices ruled that their 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, which barred mandatory sentences of life without parole for inmates who were juveniles when they committed their crimes, applies retroactively to cases that had already become final when Miller was decided.

In an opinion concurring in the court’s decision in Tatum’s case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained that sending his case and others back to the lower courts allows those courts to consider whether the inmates’ sentences “comply with the substantive rule governing the imposition of a sentence of life without parole on a juvenile offender.” “On the record before us,” she continued, “none of the sentencing judges addressed the question Miller and Montgomery require a sentencer to ask: whether the petitioner was among the very ‘rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.’”

Justice Samuel Alito dissented from the decision and filed a short opinion that was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. He asserted that “the Arizona courts have already evaluated these sentences under Miller, and their conclusions are eminently reasonable.” “It is not clear,” he added, “why this Court is insisting on a do-over, or why it expects the results to be any different the second time around.”

The justices also asked the federal government to weigh in on a copyright case, Lenz v. Universal Music Corp. There is no deadline for the government to file its brief.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Court sends Arizona life-without-parole cases back to state courts, SCOTUSblog (Oct. 31, 2016, 10:16 AM),