Miller v. Alabama was decided a little more than a year ago, and its lasting impact was discussed in this recent Washington Post article reprinted by the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Miller became part of a quartet of cases decided in recent years in which the U.S. Supreme Court said that juveniles who commit crimes are different than adults, and that difference should be recognized. Miller held that it was Cruel and Unusual Punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to have a sentencing scheme that required life without parole for juveniles who committed murder. It is still possible to sentence a juvenile to life without parole, but it cannot be a mandatory sentence.
In 2005, the death penalty for defendants who committed the criminal act while under the age of eighteen was abolished (Roper v. Simmons). In 2010, the Court held that it was Cruel and Unusual Punishment to sentence a juvenile to life without a parole for a non-homicide crime (Graham v. Florida). In 2011, courts were directed that the admissibility of confessions and the comprehension of Miranda warnings had to be analyzed in terms of the child’s age (J.D.B. v. North Carolina).
In Indiana, the trend can be tied clearly to HEA 1108, which allows judges to sentence juveniles who are in criminal court to serve at least part of the sentence in the Division of Youth Services within the Indiana Department of Correction. It also allows the sentencing judge to consider a sentencing modification before the defendant turns nineteen, if the defendant has shown progress in rehabilitative efforts.
Advocates have also been using the quartet of cases to argue for leniency in disposition/sentencing, suppression hearings, factfinding hearings/trials, and during waiver hearings (when the juvenile court is deciding whether to keep the child in juvenile court or move the case to criminal court).