The US Supreme Court granted certiorari on Monday to decide whether a juvenile must be “permanently incorrigible” to be sentenced to life without parole.
The issue comes to the Supreme Court by way of Jones v. Mississippi, a case of a 15-year-old who killed his grandfather in 2004. In 2006 the Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed a sentence of life without parole. Then, in 2012, after the Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama, which required a finding of “permanently incorrigible,” meaning unable to be corrected, before imposing a sentence of life without parole on a juvenile, the Supreme Court of Mississippi granted Jones’s motion for post-conviction relief and remanded the case to the state circuit court.
During the resentencing hearing Jones offered several new pieces of evidence, including testimony from correctional officers stating that Jones expressed “remorse” and “regret” for his crime, he had earned his GED and was prepared to take college courses, and that he did not participate any violence or gang related violence in the prison. Despite this evidence, the circuit court resentenced Jones to life without parole in 2015.
In his appeal, the petitioner relies on the holding of two Supreme Court decisions, Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana, which he says holds that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole is impermissible except in the rare circumstance that a juvenile is found to be permanently incorrigible. Jones’s petition to the Supreme Court indicates that there is a current split among courts on this issue. Six state high courts and the Ninth Circuit require a finding that the juvenile is permanently incorrigible, while four other states’ highest courts and the Fourth Circuit hold that the finding is not required.
The Supreme Court will take up the case next term.