The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


In Miller v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court held that mandatory life sentences without parole imposed upon juveniles was unconstitutional. The Court reasoned that the sentence was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Court, however, did not hold it was unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life without parole if there was “transferred intent” or “reckless disregard.” Nonetheless, the Court effectively abolished state discretion and required sentencing courts to consider an offender’s youth and attendant characteristics as mitigating circumstances. The Court, however, did not specify what sentencing guidelines should dictate. Thus, states are now left with no guidance when determining the proper sentence for those under the age of eighteen convicted of a violent crime. Although some states have progressively enforced new legislation completely erasing life without parole for juveniles, some are having trouble adequately applying Miller. Therefore, a model sentencing statute should be passed to provide guidance to state and federal legislatures. This proposed model statute should provide an individualized sentencing hearing to all juveniles convicted of a homicide offense, yet, only juveniles convicted of homicide based on a finding of intent will be eligible for life without the possibility of parole. Such a statute should include: mandatory individualized sentencing hearings and parole review after fifteen years of imprisonment, a categorical rule eliminating sentencing juveniles to life without parole based on transferred intent, and retroactive application to juvenile defendants currently serving life without parole sentences. Ultimately, this proposed statute could create an unprecedented and fundamental change in sentencing reform for juveniles and provide guidance to state and federal legislatures.

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St. Mary's University School of Law



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