« Baltimore Sun praises federal sentencing judge for his part in a "national conversation about pot" | Main | "Can the system curb prosecutorial abuses?" »

October 30, 2013

Split Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules that Miller does not apply retroactively

Thanks to How Appealing, I see that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania today finally handed down its long awaited ruling as to whether the hundreds of state teens given mandatory LWOP before the Supreme Court's Miller ruling would get any retroactive benefit from that decision.  The 4-3 split decision consists of a this majority opinion, this concurring opinion, and this dissenting opinion.  

Here is how the majority opinion concludes:

All Justices of this Court and the United States Supreme Court share the sentiment that “[d]etermining the appropriate sentence for a teenager convicted of murder presents grave and challenging questions of morality and social policy.” Miller, ___ U.S. at ___, 132 S. Ct. at 2477 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting, joined by Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, JJ.). Our role in establishing social policy in the arena is a limited one, however.  Here, applying settled principles of appellate review, nothing in Appellant’s arguments persuades us that Miller’s proscription of the imposition of mandatory life-without-parole sentences upon offenders under the age of eighteen at the time their crimes were committed must be extended to those whose judgments of sentence were final as of the time of Miller’s announcement. See generally Geter, 115 So. 3d at 377 (“Clearly and unequivocally, the Supreme Court distinguished between the substantive determinations of a categorical bar prohibiting a ‘penalty for a class of offenders or type of crime,’ as in Roper and Graham, and the procedural determination in Miller that merely requires consideration of mitigating factors of youth in the sentencing process.” (quoting Miller, ___ U.S. at ___, 132 S. Ct. at 2471)).  See generally LAFAVE, 1 CRIM. PROC. §2.11(e) (“Teague has made new rulings very rarely applicable retroactively on habeas review[.]”).

Here is a key part of start of the concurring opinion by the Chief Justice: "I write separately to express my own view of what, if anything, might be done to mitigate the seeming inequity that is a result of the High Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012).  The 'seeming inequity' here arises from the fact that the prospect of an individualized, discretionary judicial determination of whether a juvenile murderer should ever be afforded parole eligibility depends solely upon the happenstance of the moment that the defendant’s conviction became final."

And here is the first sentence of the dissent: "While I find merit in much of the Majority’s analysis, I ultimately conclude that Miller v. Alabama, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), should apply retroactively to juveniles sentenced to life without parole on timely collateral as well as direct review because I find Miller to be an effectively substantive rule."

UPDATE: How Appealing provides links via this posting to some local media coverage of this Cunningham ruling, including this Allentown Morning Call article which provides some sense of the impact and reactions to the ruling:

The decision upholds the sentence of Ian Cunningham, a man serving life in prison for a murder he committed when he was 17. It also affects as many as 450 Pennsylvania inmates including six from Lehigh County.

Ultimately, the question will have to be decided by the federal courts, and may end up back before the U.S. Supreme Court, said Kimberly Makoul, an Allentown attorney who represents Joseph G. Romeri, who is 35 years into a life sentence for bludgeoning to death an 80-year-old city woman in 1978, when he was 16. "There is still hope," Makoul said. "It's not over yet and all hope certainly isn't lost."

Marsha Levick, an attorney with the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, said the Pennsylvania high court's decision misses the ethical importance of the federal decision. "When the U.S. Supreme Court puts down a marker … it is morally unconscionable to leave any juvenile offender on the other side of that marker," she said....

The Pennsylvania court's decision was welcomed by families whose loved ones were killed by juveniles. Since the federal decision, they have been bracing for new sentencing hearings that they feared would reopen old wounds by forcing them to relive painful memories. "It's really good to hear. Really," said Darryl Romig, whose 12-year-old daughter, Danni Reese, was raped and strangled in 2003 in Allentown by a 17-year-old killer who received an automatic life sentence.

Brian A. Bahr, now 27 and jailed at the State Correctional Institution-Mahanoy, is among six once-young killers in Lehigh County whose appeals were put on hold pending Cunningham's case. "I'm just glad that he doesn't have the chance to be resentenced," Romig said in a telephone interview. "He did what he did and he deserved what he got."

October 30, 2013 at 05:30 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e2019b007977e2970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Split Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules that Miller does not apply retroactively:

Comments

The 'seeming inequity' here arises from the fact that the prospect of an individualized, discretionary judicial determination of whether a juvenile murderer should ever be afforded parole eligibility depends solely upon the happenstance of the moment that the defendant’s conviction became final."

Here we go again--the idea that murderers are somehow entitled to some sort of cosmic justice. While it's not as ill-advised as Rosemary Barkett's wholesale swallowing of the idea that killing an 18 year old white kid (who, by definition, had zero responsibility for the state of racial equality when he was murdered) could somehow be a social awareness killing, it's fuzzy thinking nonetheless. Murderers get different treatment all the time based on a lot of arbitrary happenstances (e.g., the status of the victim, whether there happen to be witnesses to the crime etc. etc.) So given all those "inequities" (and jeez, I thought that one had to do equity to get equity), the learned judge is going to get all maudlin about the "inequity" of enforcing settled judgments pursuant to law that was unquestionably constitutional at the time of its passage and at the time of judgment. So basically, the judge's sensibilities about being equitable to murderers should override the democratic process and, by the by, the victims' loved ones who would now have to face parole hearings etc.

Squeamishness masquerading as morality. And misplaced sentimentality masquerading as wisdom. Pathetic.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 30, 2013 11:05:37 PM

"whether a juvenile murderer should ever be afforded parole"
. . . . . . . . . . . . ? . . . . . . . . . . . .

Gallup 2013: “Americans have always been most likely to say the death penalty is not imposed often enough [currently 2x as likely]”
. . . . . . . . . combined with. . . . . . . . .
PA SC 2013: “settled principles of appellate review”
. . . . . . . . . . might mean . . . . . . . . . .

"because I find Miller to be an effectively substantive rule"
. . . . . . . . . . . . = . . . . . . . . . . . .
a failed attempt of subjective activism by a liberal/progressive

Posted by: Adamakis | Oct 31, 2013 8:29:07 AM

no suprise here, anyone half way familiar with Pennsylvania shouldn't be shocked by this ruling

Posted by: Flyers | Oct 31, 2013 4:14:31 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB