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Juvenile LWOP in Nebraska

The Nebraska Supreme Court has decided a trio of cases on how it will deal with Miller v. Alabama.

In State v. Castaneda, No. S-11-023, the court looks at Nebraska sentencing and parole law and decides that a life sentence for a juvenile under the law as it existed until recently was a mandatory life sentence within the meaning of Miller.  There is no dissent, and the conclusion appears to be correct.

In State v. Mantich, No. S-11-301, the court reaffirms that Nebraska follows Teague v. Lane for retroactivity on collateral review and then says it is a difficult question whether Miller is substantive (and therefore retroactive) or procedural (and therefore not retroactive).  It's obviously procedural in my book, but having declared the question difficult, the Nebraska Supreme Court proceeds to answer it the wrong way.  Justice Cassel dissents, joined by Chief Justice Heavican.  "The U.S. Supreme Court has never indicated that anything less than a full categorical ban on a sentence may be a new substantive rule, and in my view, we should decline to do so in the first instance."  Right.

In State v. Ramirez, No. S-11-486, the court decides that on remand the new Miller legislation will apply, giving discretion to impose a sentence between 40 and life.  In  Castaneda, above, the court explained that under Neb. Rev. Stat. ยง 83-1,110 parole eligibility begins at half the minimum term.

Ramirez and Castaneda are not likely to go up to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Although there are federal questions, they are intertwined with state law.  Mantich involves a deep split among state supreme courts and is prime certiorari material.

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