Citing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions holding that the Eighth Amendment limits the imposition of life sentences on juveniles, Jackson argues he is entitled to a new sentencing hearing or sentence modification. The court of appeals concludes Jackson’s sentence is constitutional.
Jackson was 16 years old when he charged with killing a woman with a shotgun during a robbery attempt. He was waived into adult court and, after conviction, given sentences that make him ineligible for parole until he is 101 years old. (¶¶3-18).
A decade after Jackson’s sentencing the Supreme Court began issuing a series of decisions holding that the Eight Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment barred certain punishments for juveniles. Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), barred the death penalty for juvenile offenses. Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), barred life-without-release sentences for nonhomicide offenses. Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), struck down sentencing schemes that mandate life in prison without the possibility of release. Finally, Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016), held that Miller applies retroactively. Montgomery also elaborated on the reasoning in Miller, holding that even if a sentencing court considers a child’s age, a life-without-release sentence violates the Eighth Amendment for a child whose crime reflects “unfortunate yet transient immaturity,” as a life-without-release sentence is inappropriate except where the child is so irreparably corrupt that rehabilitation is impossible. 136 S. Ct. at 733-34.
In 2017 Jackson challenged his sentence, asserting it was unconstitutional under the reasoning of Miller and Montgomery. The court of appeals says his challenge is foreclosed by the two Wisconsin cases, State v. Ninham, 2011 WI 33, 333 Wis. 2d 335, 797 N.W.2d 451, and State v. Barbeau, 2016 WI App 51, 370 Wis. 2d 736, 883 N.W.2d 520. Ninham—decided before both Miller and Montgomery—held that a sentence of life without release for a 14-year-old who committed homicide did not categorically constitute cruel and unusual punishment. (Our post on the case is here.) Barbeau—decided just after Montgomery, and without taking that decision into account, as noted here—concluded that life-without-release sentences imposed under a system where the court has discretion to grant or deny release are constitutional under Miller so long as the sentencing court considers the distinctive characteristics of a juvenile offender. Because the sentencing court did that in Jackson’s case, his sentence is constitutional. (¶¶29-42).
Earlier this year the court of appeals certified to the supreme court two juvenile life-sentence cases raising issues similar to the issues raised by Jackson, and in light of that Jackson asked the court of appeals to certify his case, too. The court of appeals declined Jackson’s request, and the supreme court declined the certification in the other two cases. (¶2 n.1).