Montgomery v. Louisiana,
577 U.S. ___ (2016)

Annotate this Case

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

_________________

No. 14–280

_________________

HENRY MONTGOMERY, PETITIONER v. LOUISIANA

on writ of certiorari to the supreme court of louisiana

[January 25, 2016]

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is another case in a series of decisions involving the sentencing of offenders who were juveniles when their crimes were committed. In Miller v. Alabama, 567 U. S. ___ (2012), the Court held that a juvenile convicted of a homicide offense could not be sentenced to life in prison without parole absent consideration of the juvenile’s special circumstances in light of the principles and purposes of juvenile sentencing. In the wake of Miller, the question has arisen whether its holding is retroactive to juvenile offenders whose convictions and sentences were final when Miller was decided. Courts have reached different conclusions on this point. Compare, e.g., Martin v. Symmes, 782 F. 3d 939, 943 (CA8 2015); Johnson v. Ponton, 780 F. 3d 219, 224–226 (CA4 2015); Chambers v. State, 831 N. W. 2d 311, 331 (Minn. 2013); and State v. Tate, 2012–2763, p. 17 (La. 11/5/13), 130 So. 3d 829, 841, with Diatchenko v. District Attorney for Suffolk Dist., 466 Mass. 655, 661–667, 1 N. E. 3d 270, 278–282 (2013); Aiken v. Byars, 410 S. C. 534, 548, 765 S. E. 2d 572, 578 (2014); State v. Mares, 2014 WY 126, ¶¶47–63, 335 P. 3d 487, 504–508; and People v. Davis, 2014 IL 115595, ¶41, 6 N. E. 3d 709, 722. Certiorari was granted in this case to resolve the question.

I

Petitioner is Henry Montgomery. In 1963, Montgomery killed Charles Hurt, a deputy sheriff in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Montgomery was 17 years old at the time of the crime. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed his conviction after finding that public prejudice had pre-vented a fair trial. State v. Montgomery, 181 So. 2d 756, 762 (La. 1966).

Montgomery was retried. The jury returned a verdict of “guilty without capital punishment.” State v. Montgomery, 242 So. 2d 818 (La. 1970). Under Louisiana law, this verdict required the trial court to impose a sentence of life without parole. The sentence was automatic upon the jury’s verdict, so Montgomery had no opportunity to present mitigation evidence to justify a less severe sentence. That evidence might have included Montgomery’s young age at the time of the crime; expert testimony regarding his limited capacity for foresight, self-discipline, and judgment; and his potential for rehabilitation. Montgomery, now 69 years old, has spent almost his entire life in prison.

Almost 50 years after Montgomery was first taken into custody, this Court decided Miller v. Alabama, 567 U. S. ___. Miller held that mandatory life without parole for juvenile homicide offenders violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “ ‘cruel and unusual punishments.’ ” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 2). “By making youth (and all that accompanies it) irrelevant to imposition of that harshest prison sentence,” mandatory life without parole “poses too great a risk of disproportionate punishment.” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 17). Miller required that sentencing courts consider a child’s “diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change” before condemning him or her to die in prison. Ibid. Although Miller did not foreclose a sentencer’s ability to impose life without parole on a juvenile, the Court explained that a lifetime in prison is a disproportionate sentence for all but the rarest of children, those whose crimes reflect “ ‘irreparable corruption.’ ” Ibid. (quoting Roper v. Simmons, 543 U. S. 551, 573 (2005) ).

After this Court issued its decision in Miller, Montgomery sought collateral review of his mandatory life-without-parole sentence. In Louisiana there are two principal mechanisms for collateral challenge to the lawfulness of imprisonment. Each begins with a filing in the trial court where the prisoner was convicted and sentenced. La. Code Crim. Proc. Ann., Arts. 882, 926 (West 2008). The first procedure permits a prisoner to file an application for postconviction relief on one or more of seven grounds set forth in the statute. Art. 930.3. The Louisiana Supreme Court has held that none of those grounds provides a basis for collateral review of sentencing errors. See State ex rel. Melinie v. State, 93–1380 (La. 1/12/96), 665 So. 2d 1172 (per curiam). Sentencing errors must instead be raised through Louisiana’s second collateral review procedure.

This second mechanism allows a prisoner to bring a collateral attack on his or her sentence by filing a motion to correct an illegal sentence. See Art. 882. Montgomery invoked this procedure in the East Baton Rouge Parish District Court.

The state statute provides that “[a]n illegal sentence may be corrected at any time by the court that imposed the sentence.” Ibid. An illegal sentence “is primarily restricted to those instances in which the term of the prisoner’s sentence is not authorized by the statute or statutes which govern the penalty” for the crime of conviction. State v. Mead, 2014–1051, p. 3 (La. App. 4 Cir. 4/22/15), 165 So. 3d 1044, 1047; see also State v. Alexander, 2014–0401 (La. 11/7/14), 152 So. 3d 137 (per curiam). In the ordinary course Louisiana courts will not consider a challenge to a disproportionate sentence on collateral review; rather, as a general matter, it appears that prisoners must raise Eighth Amendment sentencing chal-lenges on direct review. See State v. Gibbs, 620 So. 2d 296, 296–297 (La. App. 1993); Mead, 165 So. 3d, at 1047.

Louisiana’s collateral review courts will, however, consider a motion to correct an illegal sentence based on a decision of this Court holding that the Eighth Amendment to the Federal Constitution prohibits a punishment for a type of crime or a class of offenders. When, for example, this Court held in Graham v. Florida, 560 U. S. 48 (2010) , that the Eighth Amendment bars life-without-parole sentences for juvenile nonhomicide offenders, Louisiana courts heard Graham claims brought by prisoners whose sentences had long been final. See, e.g., State v. Shaffer, 2011–1756, pp. 1–4 (La. 11/23/11), 77 So. 3d 939, 940–942 (per curiam) (considering motion to correct an illegal sentence on the ground that Graham rendered illegal a life-without-parole sentence for a juvenile nonhomicide offender). Montgomery’s motion argued that Miller rendered his mandatory life-without-parole sentence illegal.

The trial court denied Montgomery’s motion on the ground that Miller is not retroactive on collateral review. Montgomery then filed an application for a supervisory writ. The Louisiana Supreme Court denied the application. 2013–1163 (6/20/14), 141 So. 3d 264. The court relied on its earlier decision in State v. Tate, 2012–2763, 130 So. 3d 829, which held that Miller does not have retroactive effect in cases on state collateral review. Chief Justice Johnson and Justice Hughes dissented in Tate, and Chief Justice Johnson again noted his dissent in Montgomery’s case.

This Court granted Montgomery’s petition for certiorari. The petition presented the question “whether Miller adopts a new substantive rule that applies retroactively on collateral review to people condemned as juveniles to die in prison.” Pet. for Cert. i. In addition, the Court directed the parties to address the following question: “Do we have jurisdiction to decide whether the Supreme Court of Louisiana correctly refused to give retroactive effect in this case to our decision in Miller?” 575 U. S. ___ (2015).

II

The parties agree that the Court has jurisdiction to decide this case. To ensure this conclusion is correct, the Court appointed Richard D. Bernstein as amicus curiae to brief and argue the position that the Court lacks jurisdiction. He has ably discharged his assigned responsibilities.

Amicus argues that a State is under no obligation to give a new rule of constitutional law retroactive effect in its own collateral review proceedings. As those proceedings are created by state law and under the State’s plenary control, amicus contends, it is for state courts to define applicable principles of retroactivity. Under this view, the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision does not implicate a federal right; it only determines the scope of relief avail-able in a particular type of state proceeding—a question of state law beyond this Court’s power to review.

If, however, the Constitution establishes a rule and requires that the rule have retroactive application, then a state court’s refusal to give the rule retroactive effect is reviewable by this Court. Cf. Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U. S. 314, 328 (1987) (holding that on direct review, a new constitutional rule must be applied retroactively “to all cases, state or federal”). States may not disregard a controlling, constitutional command in their own courts. See Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 1 Wheat. 304, 340–341, 344 (1816); see also Yates v. Aiken, 484 U. S. 211, 218 (1988) (when a State has not “placed any limit on the issues that it will entertain in collateral proceedings . . . it has a duty to grant the relief that federal law requires”). Amicus’ argument therefore hinges on the premise that this Court’s retroactivity precedents are not a constitutional mandate.

Justice O’Connor’s plurality opinion in Teague v. Lane, 489 U. S. 288 (1989) , set forth a framework for retroactiv-ity in cases on federal collateral review. Under Teague, a new constitutional rule of criminal procedure does not apply, as a general matter, to convictions that were final when the new rule was announced. Teague recognized, however, two categories of rules that are not subject to its general retroactivity bar. First, courts must give retroactive effect to new substantive rules of constitutional law. Substantive rules include “rules forbidding criminal punishment of certain primary conduct,” as well as “rules prohibiting a certain category of punishment for a class of defendants because of their status or offense.” Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U. S. 302, 330 (1989) ; see also Teague, supra, at 307. Although Teague describes new substantive rules as an exception to the bar on retroactive application of procedural rules, this Court has recognized that substantive rules “are more accurately characterized as . . . not subject to the bar.” Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U. S. 348, 352, n. 4 (2004). Second, courts must give retroactive effect to new “ ‘ “watershed rules of criminal procedure” implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.’ ” Id., at 352; see also Teague, 489 U. S., at 312–313.

It is undisputed, then, that Teague requires the retroactive application of new substantive and watershed procedural rules in federal habeas proceedings. Amicus, however, contends that Teague was an interpretation of the federal habeas statute, not a constitutional command; and so, the argument proceeds, Teague’s retroactivity holding simply has no application in a State’s own collateral review proceedings.

To support this claim, amicus points to language in Teague that characterized the Court’s task as “ ‘defin[ing] the scope of the writ.’ ” Id., at 308 (quoting Kuhlmann v. Wilson, 477 U. S. 436, 447 (1986) (plurality opinion)); see also 489 U. S., at 317 (White, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (“If we are wrong in construing the reach of the habeas corpus statutes, Congress can of course correct us . . . ”); id., at 332 (Brennan, J., dissenting) (“No new facts or arguments have come to light suggesting that our [past] reading of the federal habeas statute . . . was plainly mistaken”).

In addition, amicus directs us to Danforth v. Minnesota, 552 U. S. 264 (2008) , in which a majority of the Court held that Teague does not preclude state courts from giving retroactive effect to a broader set of new constitutional rules than Teague itself required. 552 U. S., at 266. The Danforth majority concluded that Teague’s general rule of nonretroactivity for new constitutional rules of criminal procedure “was an exercise of this Court’s power to interpret the federal habeas statute.” 552 U. S., at 278. Since Teague’s retroactivity bar “limit[s] only the scope of federal habeas relief,” the Danforth majority reasoned, States are free to make new procedural rules retroactive on state collateral review. 552 U. S., at 281–282.

Amicus, however, reads too much into these statements. Neither Teague nor Danforth had reason to address whether States are required as a constitutional matter to give retroactive effect to new substantive or watershed procedural rules. Teague originated in a federal, not state, habeas proceeding; so it had no particular reason to discuss whether any part of its holding was required by the Constitution in addition to the federal habeas statute. And Danforth held only that Teague’s general rule of nonretroactivity was an interpretation of the federal habeas statute and does not prevent States from providing greater relief in their own collateral review courts. The Danforth majority limited its analysis to Teague’s general retroactivity bar, leaving open the question whether Teague’s two exceptions are binding on the States as a matter of constitutional law. 552 U. S., at 278; see also id., at 277 (“[T]he case before us now does not involve either of the ‘Teague exceptions’ ”).

In this case, the Court must address part of the question left open in Danforth. The Court now holds that when a new substantive rule of constitutional law controls the outcome of a case, the Constitution requires state collateral review courts to give retroactive effect to that rule. Teague’s conclusion establishing the retroactivity of new substantive rules is best understood as resting upon constitutional premises. That constitutional command is, like all federal law, binding on state courts. This holding is limited to Teague’s first exception for substantive rules; the constitutional status of Teague’s exception for watershed rules of procedure need not be addressed here.

This Court’s precedents addressing the nature of substantive rules, their differences from procedural rules, and their history of retroactive application establish that the Constitution requires substantive rules to have retroactive effect regardless of when a conviction became final.

The category of substantive rules discussed in Teague originated in Justice Harlan’s approach to retroactivity. Teague adopted that reasoning. See 489 U. S., at 292, 312 (discussing Mackey v. United States, 401 U. S. 667, 692 (1971) (opinion concurring in judgments in part and dissenting in part); and Desist v. United States, 394 U. S. 244 , n. 2 (1969) (Harlan, J., dissenting)). Justice Harlan defined substantive constitutional rules as “those that place, as a matter of constitutional interpretation, certain kinds of primary, private individual conduct beyond the power of the criminal law-making authority to proscribe.” Mackey, supra, at 692. In Penry v. Lynaugh, decided four months after Teague, the Court recognized that “the first exception set forth in Teague should be understood to cover not only rules forbidding criminal punishment of certain primary conduct but also rules prohibiting a certain category of punishment for a class of defendants because of their status or offense.” 492 U. S., at 330. Penry explained that Justice Harlan’s first exception spoke “in terms of substantive categorical guarantees accorded by the Constitution, regardless of the procedures followed.” Id., at 329. Whether a new rule bars States from proscribing certain conduct or from inflicting a certain punishment, “[i]n both cases, the Constitution itself deprives the State of the power to impose a certain pen-alty.” Id., at 330.

Substantive rules, then, set forth categorical constitutional guarantees that place certain criminal laws and punishments altogether beyond the State’s power to impose. It follows that when a State enforces a proscription or penalty barred by the Constitution, the resulting conviction or sentence is, by definition, unlawful. Procedural rules, in contrast, are designed to enhance the accuracy of a conviction or sentence by regulating “the manner of determining the defendant’s culpability.” Schriro, 542 U. S., at 353; Teague, supra, at 313. Those rules “merely raise the possibility that someone convicted with use of the invalidated procedure might have been acquitted otherwise.” Schriro, supra, at 352. Even where proce-dural error has infected a trial, the resulting conviction or sentence may still be accurate; and, by extension, the defendant’s continued confinement may still be lawful. For this reason, a trial conducted under a procedure found to be unconstitutional in a later case does not, as a general matter, have the automatic consequence of invalidating a defendant’s conviction or sentence.

The same possibility of a valid result does not exist where a substantive rule has eliminated a State’s power to proscribe the defendant’s conduct or impose a given punishment. “[E]ven the use of impeccable factfinding procedures could not legitimate a verdict” where “the conduct being penalized is constitutionally immune from punishment.” United States v. United States Coin & Currency, 401 U. S. 715, 724 (1971) . Nor could the use of flawless sentencing procedures legitimate a punishment where the Constitution immunizes the defendant from the sentence imposed. “No circumstances call more for the invocation of a rule of complete retroactivity.” Ibid.

By holding that new substantive rules are, indeed, retroactive, Teague continued a long tradition of giving retroactive effect to constitutional rights that go beyond procedural guarantees. See Mackey, supra, at 692–693 (opinion of Harlan, J.) (“[T]he writ has historically been available for attacking convictions on [substantive] grounds”). Before Brown v. Allen, 344 U. S. 443 (1953) , “federal courts would never consider the merits of a constitutional claim if the habeas petitioner had a fair opportunity to raise his arguments in the original proceeding.” Desist, 394 U. S., at 261 (Harlan, J., dissenting). Even in the pre-1953 era of restricted federal habeas, however, an exception was made “when the habeas petitioner attacked the constitutionality of the state statute under which he had been convicted. Since, in this situation, the State had no power to proscribe the conduct for which the petitioner was imprisoned, it could not constitutionally insist that he remain in jail.” Id., at 261, n. 2 (Harlan, J., dissenting) (citation omitted).

In Ex parte Siebold, 100 U. S. 371 (1880) , the Court addressed why substantive rules must have retroactive effect regardless of when the defendant’s conviction became final. At the time of that decision, “[m]ere error in the judgment or proceedings, under and by virtue of which a party is imprisoned, constitute[d] no ground for the issue of the writ.” Id., at 375. Before Siebold, the law might have been thought to establish that so long as the conviction and sentence were imposed by a court of competent jurisdiction, no habeas relief could issue. In Siebold, however, the petitioners attacked the judgments on the ground that they had been convicted under unconstitutional statutes. The Court explained that if “this position is well taken, it affects the foundation of the whole proceedings.” Id., at 376. A conviction under an unconstitutional law

“is not merely erroneous, but is illegal and void, and cannot be a legal cause of imprisonment. It is true, if no writ of error lies, the judgment may be final, in the sense that there may be no means of reversing it. But . . . if the laws are unconstitutional and void, the Circuit Court acquired no jurisdiction of the causes.” Id., at 376–377.

As discussed, the Court has concluded that the same logic governs a challenge to a punishment that the Constitution deprives States of authority to impose. Penry, supra, at 330; see also Friendly, Is Innocence Irrelevant? Collateral Attack on Criminal Judgments, 38 U. Chi. L. Rev. 142, 151 (1970) (“Broadly speaking, the original sphere for collateral attack on a conviction was where the tribunal lacked jurisdiction either in the usual sense or because the statute under which the defendant had been prosecuted was unconstitutional or because the sentence was one the court could not lawfully impose” (footnotes omitted)). A conviction or sentence imposed in violation of a substantive rule is not just erroneous but contrary to law and, as a result, void. See Siebold, 100 U. S., at 376. It follows, as a general principle, that a court has no authority to leave in place a conviction or sentence that violates a substantive rule, regardless of whether the conviction or sentence became final before the rule was announced.

Siebold and the other cases discussed in this opinion, of course, do not directly control the question the Court now answers for the first time. These precedents did not involve a state court’s postconviction review of a conviction or sentence and so did not address whether the Constitution requires new substantive rules to have retroactive effect in cases on state collateral review. These decisions, however, have important bearing on the analysis necessary in this case.

In support of its holding that a conviction obtained under an unconstitutional law warrants habeas relief, the Siebold Court explained that “[a]n unconstitutional law is void, and is as no law.” Ibid. A penalty imposed pursuant to an unconstitutional law is no less void because the prisoner’s sentence became final before the law was held unconstitutional. There is no grandfather clause that permits States to enforce punishments the Constitution forbids. To conclude otherwise would undercut the Constitution’s substantive guarantees. Writing for the Court in United States Coin & Currency, Justice Harlan made this point when he declared that “[n]o circumstances call more for the invocation of a rule of complete retroactivity” than when “the conduct being penalized is constitutionally immune from punishment.” 401 U. S., at 724. United States Coin & Currency involved a case on direct review; yet, for the reasons explained in this opinion, the same principle should govern the application of substantive rules on collateral review. As Justice Harlan explained, where a State lacked the power to proscribe the habeas petitioner’s conduct, “it could not constitutionally insist that he remain in jail.” Desist, supra, at 261, n. 2 (dissenting opinion).

If a State may not constitutionally insist that a prisoner remain in jail on federal habeas review, it may not constitutionally insist on the same result in its own postconviction proceedings. Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, state collateral review courts have no greater power than federal habeas courts to mandate that aprisoner continue to suffer punishment barred by the Constitution. If a state collateral proceeding is open to a claim controlled by federal law, the state court “has a duty to grant the relief that federal law requires.” Yates, 484 U. S., at 218. Where state collateral review proceedings permit prisoners to challenge the lawfulness of their confinement, States cannot refuse to give retroactive effect to a substantive constitutional right that determines the outcome of that challenge.

As a final point, it must be noted that the retroactive application of substantive rules does not implicate a State’s weighty interests in ensuring the finality of convictions and sentences. Teague warned against the intrusiveness of “continually forc[ing] the States to marshal resources in order to keep in prison defendants whose trials and appeals conformed to then-existing constitutional standards.” 489 U. S., at 310. This concern has no application in the realm of substantive rules, for no resources marshaled by a State could preserve a conviction or sentence that the Constitution deprives the State of power to impose. See Mackey, 401 U. S., at 693 (opinion of Harlan, J.) (“There is little societal interest in permitting the criminal process to rest at a point where it ought properly never to repose”).

In adjudicating claims under its collateral review procedures a State may not deny a controlling right asserted under the Constitution, assuming the claim is properly presented in the case. Louisiana follows these basic Supremacy Clause principles in its postconviction proceedings for challenging the legality of a sentence. The State’s collateral review procedures are open to claims that a decision of this Court has rendered certain sentences illegal, as a substantive matter, under the Eighth Amendment. See, e.g., State v. Dyer, 2011–1758, pp. 1–2 (La. 11/23/11), 77 So. 3d 928, 928–929 (per curiam) (considering claim on collateral review that this Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida, 560 U. S. 48 , rendered petitioner’s life-without-parole sentence illegal). Montgomery alleges that Miller announced a substantive constitutional rule and that the Louisiana Supreme Court erred by failing to recognize its retroactive effect. This Court has jurisdiction to review that determination.

III

This leads to the question whether Miller’s prohibition on mandatory life without parole for juvenile offenders indeed did announce a new substantive rule that, under the Constitution, must be retroactive.

As stated above, a procedural rule “regulate[s] only the manner of determining the defendant’s culpability.” Schriro, 542 U. S., at 353. A substantive rule, in contrast, forbids “criminal punishment of certain primary conduct” or prohibits “a certain category of punishment for a class of defendants because of their status or offense.” Penry, 492 U. S., at 330; see also Schriro, supra, at 353 (A substantive rule “alters the range of conduct or the class of persons that the law punishes”). Under this standard, and for the reasons explained below, Miller announced a substantive rule that is retroactive in cases on collateral review.

The “foundation stone” for Miller’s analysis was this Court’s line of precedent holding certain punishments disproportionate when applied to juveniles. 567 U. S., at ___, n. 4 (slip op., at 8, n. 4). Those cases include Graham v. Florida, supra, which held that the Eighth Amendment bars life without parole for juvenile nonhomicide offenders, and Roper v. Simmons, 543 U. S. 551 , which held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits capital punishment for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes. Protection against disproportionate punishment is the central substantive guarantee of the Eighth Amendment and goes far beyond the manner of determining a defendant’s sentence. See Graham, supra, at 59 (“The concept of proportionality is central to the Eighth Amendment”);see also Weems v. United States, 217 U. S. 349 (1910); Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U. S. 957 –998 (1991) (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment).

Miller took as its starting premise the principle established in Roper and Graham that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.” 567 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 8) (citing Roper, supra, at 569–570; and Graham, supra, at 68). These differences result from children’s “diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform,” and are apparent in three primary ways:

“First, children have a ‘lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility,’ leading to recklessness, impulsivity, and heedless risk-taking. Second, children ‘are more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures,’ including from their family and peers; they have limited ‘control over their own environment’ and lack the ability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings. And third, a child’s character is not as ‘well formed’ as an adult’s; his traits are ‘less fixed’ and his actions less likely to be ‘evidence of irretrievable depravity.’ ” 567 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 8) (quoting Roper, supra, at 569–570; alterations, citations, and some internal quotation marks omitted).

As a corollary to a child’s lesser culpability, Miller recognized that “the distinctive attributes of youth diminish the penological justifications” for imposing life without parole on juvenile offenders. 567 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 9). Because retribution “relates to an offender’s blameworthiness, the case for retribution is not as strong with a minor as with an adult.” Ibid. (quoting Graham, supra, at 71; internal quotation marks omitted). The deterrence rationale likewise does not suffice, since “the same characteristics that render juveniles less culpable than adults—their immaturity, recklessness, and impetuosity—make them less likely to consider potential punishment.” 567 U. S., at ___–___ (slip op., at 9–10) (internal quotation marks omitted). The need for incapacitation is lessened, too, because ordinary adolescent development diminishes the likelihood that a juvenile offender “ ‘forever will be a danger to society.’ ” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 10) (quoting Graham, 560 U. S., at 72). Rehabilitation is not a satisfactory rationale, either. Rehabilitation cannot justify the sentence, as life without parole “forswears altogether the rehabilitative ideal.” 567 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 10) (quoting Graham, supra, at 74).

These considerations underlay the Court’s holding in Miller that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children “pos[e] too great a risk of disproportionate punishment.” 567 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 17). Miller requires that before sentencing a juvenile to life without parole, the sentencing judge take into account “how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.” Ibid. The Court recognized that a sentencer mightencounter the rare juvenile offender who exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible and life without parole is justified. But in light of “children’s diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change,” Miller made clear that “appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.” Ibid.

Miller, then, did more than require a sentencer to consider a juvenile offender’s youth before imposing life without parole; it established that the penological justifications for life without parole collapse in light of “the distinctive attributes of youth.” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 9). Even if a court considers a child’s age before sentencing him or her to a lifetime in prison, that sentence still violates the Eighth Amendment for a child whose crime reflects “ ‘unfortunate yet transient immaturity.’ ” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 17) (quoting Roper, 543 U. S., at 573). Because Miller determined that sentencing a child to life without parole is excessive for all but “ ‘the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption,’ ” 567 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 17) (quoting Roper, supra, at 573), it rendered life without parole an unconstitutional penalty for “a class of defendants because of their status”—that is, juvenile offenders whose crimes reflect the transient immaturity of youth. Penry, 492 U. S., at 330. As a result, Miller announced a substantive rule of constitutional law. Like other substantive rules, Miller is retroactive because it “ ‘necessarily carr[ies] a significant risk that a defendant’ ”—here, the vast majority of juvenile offenders—“ ‘faces a punishment that the law cannot impose upon him.’ ” Schriro, 542 U. S., at 352 (quoting Bousley v. United States, 523 U. S. 614, 620 (1998) ).

Louisiana nonetheless argues that Miller is procedural because it did not place any punishment beyond the State’s power to impose; it instead required sentencing courts to take children’s age into account before condemning them to die in prison. In support of this argument, Louisiana points to Miller’s statement that the decision “does not categorically bar a penalty for a class of offenders or type of crime—as, for example, we did in Roper or Graham. Instead, it mandates only that a sentencer follow a certain process—considering an offender’s youth and attendant characteristics—before imposing a particular penalty.” Miller, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 20). Miller, it is true, did not bar a punishment for all juvenile offenders, as the Court did in Roper or Graham. Miller did bar life without parole, however, for all but the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility. For that reason, Miller is no less substantive than are Roper and Graham. Before Miller, every juvenile convicted of a homicide offense could be sentenced to life without parole. After Miller, it will be the rare juvenile offender who can receive that same sentence. The only difference between Roper and Graham, on the one hand, and Miller, on the other hand, is that Miller drew a line between children whose crimes reflect transient immaturity and those rare children whose crimes reflect irreparable corruption. The fact that life without parole could be a proportionate sentence for the latter kind of juvenile offender does not mean that all other children imprisoned under a disproportionate sentence have not suffered the deprivation of a substantive right.

To be sure, Miller’s holding has a procedural component. Miller requires a sentencer to consider a juvenile offender’s youth and attendant characteristics before determining that life without parole is a proportionate sentence. See 567 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 20). Louisiana contends that because Miller requires this process, it must have set forth a procedural rule. This argument, however, conflates a procedural requirement necessary to implement a substantive guarantee with a rule that “regulate[s] only the manner of determining the defendant’s culpability.” Schriro, supra, at 353. There are instances in which a substantive change in the law must be attended by a procedure that enables a prisoner to show that he falls within the category of persons whom the law may no longer punish. See Mackey, 401 U. S., at 692, n. 7 (opinion of Harlan, J.) (“Some rules may have both procedural and substantive ramifications, as I have used those terms here”). For example, when an element of a criminal offense is deemed unconstitutional, a prisoner convicted under that offense receives a new trial where the government must prove the prisoner’s conduct still fits within the modified definition of the crime. In a similar vein, when the Constitution prohibits a particular form of punishment for a class of persons, an affected prisoner receives a procedure through which he can show that he belongs to the protected class. See, e.g., Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304, 317 (2002) (requiring a procedure to determine whether a particular individual with an intellectual disability “fall[s] within the range of [intellectually disabled] offenders about whom there is a national consensus” that execution is impermissible). Those procedural requirements do not, of course, transform substantive rules into procedural ones.

The procedure Miller prescribes is no different. A hearing where “youth and its attendant characteristics” are considered as sentencing factors is necessary to separate those juveniles who may be sentenced to life without parole from those who may not. 567 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 1). The hearing does not replace but rather gives effect to Miller’s substantive holding that life without parole is an excessive sentence for children whose crimes reflect transient immaturity.

Louisiana suggests that Miller cannot have made a constitutional distinction between children whose crimes reflect transient immaturity and those whose crimes reflect irreparable corruption because Miller did not require trial courts to make a finding of fact regarding a child’s incorrigibility. That this finding is not required, however, speaks only to the degree of procedure Miller mandated in order to implement its substantive guarantee. When a new substantive rule of constitutional law is established, this Court is careful to limit the scope of any attendant procedural requirement to avoid intruding more than necessary upon the States’ sovereign administration of their criminal justice systems. See Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U. S. 399 –417 (1986) (“[W]e leave to the State[s] the task of developing appropriate ways to enforce the constitutional restriction upon [their] execution of sentences”). Fidelity to this important principle of federalism, however, should not be construed to demean the substantive character of the federal right at issue. That Miller did not impose a formal factfinding requirement does not leave States free to sentence a child whose crime reflects transient immaturity to life without parole. To the contrary, Miller established that this punishment is disproportionate under the Eighth Amendment.

For this reason, the death penalty cases Louisiana cites in support of its position are inapposite. See, e.g., Beard v. Banks, 542 U. S. 406, 408 (2004) (holding nonretroactive the rule that forbids instructing a jury to disregard mitigating factors not found by a unanimous vote); O’Dell v. Netherland, 521 U. S. 151, 153 (1997) (holding nonretroactive the rule providing that, if the prosecutor cites future dangerousness, the defendant may inform the jury of his ineligibility for parole); Sawyer v. Smith, 497 U. S. 227, 229 (1990) (holding nonretroactive the rule that forbids suggesting to a capital jury that it is not responsible for a death sentence). Those decisions altered the processes in which States must engage before sentencing a person to death. The processes may have had some effect on the likelihood that capital punishment would be imposed, but none of those decisions rendered a certain penalty unconstitutionally excessive for a category of offenders.

The Court now holds that Miller announced a substantive rule of constitutional law. The conclusion that Miller states a substantive rule comports with the principles that informed Teague. Teague sought to balance the important goals of finality and comity with the liberty interests of those imprisoned pursuant to rules later deemed unconstitutional. Miller’s conclusion that the sentence of life without parole is disproportionate for the vast majority of juvenile offenders raises a grave risk that many are being held in violation of the Constitution.

Giving Miller retroactive effect, moreover, does not require States to relitigate sentences, let alone convictions, in every case where a juvenile offender received mandatory life without parole. A State may remedy a Miller violation by permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole, rather than by resentencing them. See, e.g., Wyo. Stat. Ann. §6–10–301(c) (2013) (juvenile homicide offenders eligible for parole after 25 years). Allowing those offenders to be considered for parole ensures that juveniles whose crimes reflected only transient immaturity—and who have since matured—will not be forced to serve a disproportionate sentence in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Extending parole eligibility to juvenile offenders does not impose an onerous burden on the States, nor does it disturb the finality of state convictions. Those prisoners who have shown an inability to reform will continue to serve life sentences. The opportunity for release will be afforded to those who demonstrate the truth of Miller’s central intuition—that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change.

Petitioner has discussed in his submissions to this Court his evolution from a troubled, misguided youth to a model member of the prison community. Petitioner states that he helped establish an inmate boxing team, of which he later became a trainer and coach. He alleges that he has contributed his time and labor to the prison’s silkscreen department and that he strives to offer advice and serve as a role model to other inmates. These claims have not been tested or even addressed by the State, so the Court does not confirm their accuracy. The petitioner’s sub-missions are relevant, however, as an example of onekind of evidence that prisoners might use to demonstrate rehabilitation.

*  *  *

Henry Montgomery has spent each day of the past 46 years knowing he was condemned to die in prison. Perhaps it can be established that, due to exceptional circumstances, this fate was a just and proportionate punishment for the crime he committed as a 17-year-old boy. In light of what this Court has said in Roper, Graham, and Miller about how children are constitutionally different from adults in their level of culpability, however, prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Louisiana is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.