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October 4, 2013

Third Circuit concludes juves serving LWOP made "prima facie showing that Miller is retroactive"

As reported in this AP article, headlined "3 Lifers Win Ruling in Juvenile Sentencing Case," the Third Circuit yesterday handed down an important, but nuanced, ruling concerning the retroactive application of the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment ruling in Miller concerning mandatory LWOP sentencing for juvenile offenders.   Here is a summary of the ruling and some initial reactions thereto via the AP:

Three men who have been serving life sentences since they were juveniles won a fresh chance to convince judges they deserve to be resentenced under a decision Thursday by the federal appeals court based in Philadelphia.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said there was at least some reason to think last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Miller v. Alabama, throwing out mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles, should be applied retroactively.

The court stressed its decision is tentative and made under a standard that means there is enough possible merit to warrant a full exploration of the matter. The defendants must still convince the district judges they should be resentenced.

Defendants Michael J. Pendleton and Franklin X. Baines are in Pennsylvania prisons, while defendant Corey Grant is serving life in New Jersey.

Baines' lawyer, David R. Fine, said the decision means the appeals court "agreed there's at least an argument that Miller is retroactive." Baines is "going to have to convince that judge that Miller applies retroactively," Fine said. "And if he convinces the judge of that, obviously, there can be appeals."

The opinion noted a split in similar decisions being made by other federal circuit courts across the country, and Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia district attorney's office, called it an issue "that will be finally resolved by the United States Supreme Court."

Her counterpart in Pittsburgh said the Allegheny County district attorney's office might appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. "We're going to talk to Philadelphia," said Mike Manko, spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala. "They had a co-filing, and we'll see what the best thing to do is at this point."

Grant's lawyer, David B. Glazer, said the next step will probably be a scheduling order by the district judge, possibly including a requirement for legal briefs. He said Grant was convicted of a drug-related murder that occurred a few days after his 16th birthday. "It's one of the hurdles along the way," Glazer said. "We're just excited about the possibility of getting him back to court."

Pendleton's lawyer, federal public defender Lisa Freeland, said she was very happy with the decision. Her client was convicted of second-degree murder for the 1997 shooting death of a Pittsburgh jitney driver during a robbery, according to a magistrate judge's report in his federal court file. "We still have a ways to go, but this is a necessary first step to getting relief for Mr. Pendleton," Freeland said.

The panel opinion from the Third Circuit in these consolidated cases is available at this link; here are key excerpts:

In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 2460 (2010), the Supreme Court held that “mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on 'cruel and unusual punishments.'” Corey Grant, Franklin X. Baines, and Michael J. Pendleton (collectively, “Petitioners”), each of whom claims to be serving a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole for offenses committed as juveniles, seek our authorization to file successive habeas corpus petitions under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254 (for Baines and Pendleton) and 2255 (for Grant) to raise Miller claims. Both Baines and Pendleton were convicted in state court in Pennsylvania, and Grant was convicted in federal court in New Jersey....

After extensive briefing and oral argument, we conclude that Petitioners have made a prima facie showing that Miller is retroactive.  In doing so, we join several of our sister courts of appeals. See, e.g., Wang v. United States, No. 13-2426 (2d Cir. July 16, 2013) (granting motion to file a successive habeas corpus petition raising a Miller claim); In re James, No. 12-287 (4th Cir. May 10, 2013) (same); Johnson v. United States, 720 F.3d 720 (8th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (same). But see In re Morgan, 713 F.3d 1365 (11th Cir. 2013) (concluding that Miller is not retroactive), reh’g en banc denied, 717 F.3d 1186; Craig v. Cain, No. 12-30035, 2013 WL 69128 (5th Cir. Jan. 4, 2013) (per curiam) (same).

Because of the circuit split noted by the Third Circuit (which has a notable north/deep south quality to it), the Supreme Court is surely likely to take up this issue in some form at some point in the not too distant future.

October 4, 2013 at 03:44 PM | Permalink

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