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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

SCOTUS to Revisit Ruling on Juvenile Sentences

(CN) - The Supreme Court agreed to consider whether its 2012 ruling throwing out mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles should apply to older cases.

The case the justices will look at is that of George Toca, who has been imprisoned since the mid-1980s for accidentally killing his best friend, Eric Batiste, during a botched armed robbery.

Toca was 17 at the time of the shooting, and the life without parole sentence he received was mandatory minimum sentence he could receive at the time. He has been incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary ever since.

Toca and his lawyer, Emily Maw of Innocence Project New Orleans, have long tried to overturn his conviction, arguing that someone else was responsible for the accidental slaying, but to no avail.

Two years ago, the high court ruled in Miller v. Alabama, that an automatic, mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for anyone under 18 amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment," in violation of the 8th Amendment.

But since then courts have been divided on how to apply ruling, and whether it applies at all to cases that have long been closed.

In her petition for certiorari, Maw said state supreme courts in Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Texas have held that the decision should be applied retroactively.

Six U.S. circuit courts have also permitted retroactive application of the decision, she said.

But Louisiana is one of four states, the others being Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, where courts have held the high court's decision should not be applied to old cases. In June, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the decision specifically did not apply to Toca's case.

Toca's latest attempt, the first predicated on the Supreme Court ruling, was previously rejected by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

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