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December 2, 2012

Two distinct Illinois appellate panels find Miller retroactive on two distinct grounds

Thanks to a helpful reader, I learned recently that last week was a very big one for juvenile sentencing in Illinois: two different panels of the state's appellate court in the First District concluded that Miller v. Alabama should fully retroactive and therefore applicable to defendants on collateral review. Adding to the intrigue, the two distinct panels embraced two distinct theories in support of Miller retroactivity.

The first panel to rule, in State v. Williams, 2012 IL App (1st) 111145 (Nov. 27, 2012) (available here), explained its holding in these terms:

We hold that the Supreme Court's decision in Miller should be retroactively applied in this case because it is a rule that requires the observance of those procedures that are implicit in the concept of ordered liberty....  [U]nder the proportionate punishment analysis in Miller, defendant was denied a "basic 'precept of justice'" by not receiving any consideration of his age from the circuit court in sentencing....

A new rule of criminal procedure applies retroactively in those instances where it has made a substantial or substantive change in the law....  We find that Miller not only changed procedures, but also made a substantial change in the law in holding under the eighth amendment that the government cannot constitutionally apply a mandatory sentence of life without parole for homicides committed by juveniles.  Life without parole is justified only where the State shows that it is appropriate and fitting regardless of the defendant's age.  We hold that Miller is such a " 'watershed rule[] of criminal procedure.' "

The second panel to rule, in State v. Morfin, 2012 IL App (1st) 103568 (Nov. 30, 2012) (available here), explained its holding in these terms:

We conclude that, pursuant to Teague, Miller v. Alabama is applicable retroactively on collateral review.  Miller creates a new rule of law that was not required by either the precedents on what penalties a minor constitutionally cannot receive (Roper and Graham) or by the cases cited in Miller requiring sentencing discretion for the death penalty.... However, we find that Miller constitutes a new substantive rule.  While it does not forbid a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for a minor, it does require Illinois courts to hold a sentencing hearing for every minor convicted of first degree murder at which a sentence other than natural life imprisonment must be available for consideration.  Miller mandates a sentencing range broader than that provided by statute for minors convicted of first degree murder who could otherwise receive only natural life imprisonment.

Some prior major posts on Miller and its potential retroactive impact:

December 2, 2012 at 10:25 PM | Permalink

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Comments

"Miller creates a new rule of law that was not required by either the precedents on what penalties a minor constitutionally cannot receive (Roper and Graham) or by the cases cited in Miller requiring sentencing discretion for the death penalty..."

Not the most concise sentence I've ever read. Really, can't these judges write a better sentence or is there mischief afoot?


The fact that the Supreme Court failed to define whether it's holding in Miller would apply retroactively is what makes many people think justice is just a game with these people. Surely this was anticipated, yet the court failed to take the simple step to say one way or the other.

Posted by: justme | Dec 2, 2012 11:14:06 PM

Finally some sanity. This whole question has a simple, three-word answer: Sumner versus Shuman.

If the decision striking down the mandatory death penalty was retroactive, even though it was predictable that most of those serving it would get death again (after all, they killed in prison while serving a life sentence; juries don't like that), then how can the decision striking down JLWOP *not* be retroactive, when the Court has predicted that most of those serving it will not (or at least should not) get LWOP again?

Posted by: Anon | Dec 4, 2012 6:21:36 PM

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