Yesterday, in Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court did offer up a life changing decision for potentially thousands of children. Those juveniles are the ones currently serving, or currently facing, life without parole sentences. These children now have the possibility of a virtual 180 degree turnaround. Since these children were sentenced under a mandatory minimum that no longer exists, judges may - in many cases - re-sentence to any term whatsover. Some might be free fairly soon and many will probably be released at some point in their lives. (As a side note, I think there is a real risk that there will be gross disparities in resentencing based on attorney quality because - much like death-phase trials - effective mitigation requires a talented lawyer with resources.)
Judges won't always have carte blance discretion in these existing cases. They might be constrained by other mandatory sentences embedded in the convictions. Thus , for example, a juvenile offender convicted of both murder and use of a gun in a felony, might still face a mandatory minimum for the lesser crime.
But on balance, those children who have already committed a murder are much better off. They will all get another bite at the sentencing apple.
What of the future? At their core, mandatory minimums are an effort by the legislature to strip judges of discretion. When legislators impose mandatory life without parole, they are saying either that no mitigation could ever lessen the appropriate sentence...or, perhaps, that judges cannot be trusted to use discretion properly. Legislators will be no more sympathetic to juveniles convicted of murder, or to the capacities of judges, than they were before. So I think it's quite likely we'll see new mandatory minimums adopted for children convicted of murder. No one should be surprised when we see bills imposing 50 year minimums for murder by juveniles, for example. This would be an improvement, perhaps. But not nearly as big as the one that existing offenders will experience. And unless the Court moves further than any of us can reasonably expect, such mandatories will likely survive review.
Update: case name corrected.