parole for juveniles rejects the “rehabilitative ideal” of the juvenile court and is “at odds with a
child’s capacity for change.” 44
In holding that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles is
unconstitutional, Miller went beyond Roper and Graham in two important ways. First, Miller
recognized that the logic of developmental research applies regardless of the crime the juvenile
commits. 45 Miller and Roper involved crimes of murder, while Graham did not. 46 The Miller
Court argued, “none of what it said about children—about their distinctive (and transitory) mental
traits and environmental vulnerabilities—is crime-specific.” 47 Thus, Miller’s reasoning is
applicable to all juvenile crimes.
Second, the Miller Court expanded upon Roper and Graham by concluding that
sentencing for juvenile offenders must be individualized. 48 Roper and Graham relied on research
that applied to all juveniles. Although all juvenile brains are still developing, Miller went beyond
discussing all juveniles when it recognized that there are individual differences among children
that might cause or result from individual issues these youth face, no matter what the crime.
Recognizing the “special pertinence . . . that a sentencer have the ability to consider the
‘mitigating qualities of youth,’” 49 the Miller Court emphasized the importance of a sentencer’s
ability to consider the juvenile offender’s age and “the wealth of characteristics and
circumstances attendant to it.” 50 Specifically, the Court acknowledged that mandatory sentencing
for juveniles treats all juveniles the same, regardless of age, and does not consider the juvenile’s
specific involvement in the crime or the juvenile’s household environment. 51 In summarizing this
finding, the Court addressed the many factors that should be considered at sentencing, stating:
To recap: Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of
his chronological age and its hallmark features—among them, immaturity,
impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences. It prevents taking
into account the family and home environment that surrounds him—and from
which he cannot usually extricate himself—no matter how brutal or
In other words, the Court found that outside influences may affect juveniles differently and
therefore should be considered at sentencing on a case-by-case basis.
The Miller Court acknowledged the particular adverse experiences of both juvenile
defendants in the case. The Court mentioned the first defendant’s “family background and
immersion in violence: Both his mother and his grandmother had previously shot other
individuals.” 53 Regarding the second defendant, the Court noted:
44 Id. (citation omitted). “Roper and Graham establish that children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of
sentencing.” Id. at 2464.
45 Id. at 2467.
46 Id. at 2460; Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 556 (2005); see Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 53 (2010) (indicating Graham was
charged with armed burglary with assault or battery).
47 Miller, 132 S. Ct. at 2465.
48 Id. at 2468 (“So Graham and Roper and our individualized sentencing cases alike teach that in imposing a State’s harshest penalties
a sentencer misses too much if he treats every child as an adult.”).
49 Id. at 2467 (citation omitted).
51 Id. at 2467-68 (“Under these schemes, every juvenile will receive the same sentence as every other—the 17–year–old and the 14–
year–old, the shooter and the accomplice, the child from a stable household and the child from a chaotic and abusive one. And still
worse, each juvenile (including these two 14–year–olds) will receive the same sentence as the vast majority of adults committing
similar homicide offenses—but really, as Graham noted, a greater sentence than those adults will serve.”).
52 Id. at 2468.
53 Id. at 2468-69.