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November 5, 2013

When and how will SCOTUS take up Miller retroactivity issues?

The question in the title of this post is promoted by this local piece reporting on reactions to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision last week (reported here) that its state teens given mandatory LWOP before the US Supreme Court's Miller ruling should not get any retroactive benefit from that decision.   Here is an excerpt:

Nicholas White was 17 when a judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole for killing his father, Robert Grant White, 43, in 1998 in their home along Route 356.

Last year, the Supreme Court declared such sentences unconstitutional, saying they amount to cruel and unusual punishment. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week ruled, 4-3, that the opinion does not apply retroactively to cases such as White's that were final before June 2012.

The decision means White and more than 450 Pennsylvania inmates, including as many as 40 from Allegheny County, are not eligible for resentencing. “I can't believe that it's fair — that if your sentence came down one day, you get nothing, and if it came down the next day, you get a new hearing,” said Marc Bookman, director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation in Philadelphia.

“But there is a silver lining here, and that is that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court does have another round of review, and that is with the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Turtle Creek attorney David Chontos. He represents Jeremy Melvin, 26, of McKeesport, who was 16 in 2005 when a Mercer County judge sentenced him to life without parole for killing a counselor at George Junior Republic, a private residential juvenile treatment center.

Several legal experts said the case likely is bound for the Supreme Court, because Iowa, Mississippi and Illinois deemed the high court's ruling retroactive, although Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan and Florida have said it is not.

There seems little reason to doubt SCOTUS will be taking up this issue before too long. But when and how is a real interesting question, not only because the facts of the case taken up by the Justices could influence the public and legal discourse, but also because arguments about Miller retroactivity could (and I think should) prompt some reconsideration and modification of Teague habeas review jurisprudence.

November 5, 2013 at 09:47 AM | Permalink


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Out of curiosity, what do you think needs to be done about Teague habeas review? (If you've discussed this in a previous blog and I missed it, I apologize)

Posted by: J.D. | Nov 5, 2013 10:04:46 AM

While I am sure that there are many who would like to see Teague revisited, I am not sure that the Supreme Court will perceive the need in light of other Supreme Court decisions in the past decade on collateral review in state courts and the scope of federal habeas review.

Under those rulings, the rule seems to be:

1) States get to decide retroactivity for state collateral review;
2) The only assured federal habeas review on merits is for cases in which direct appeal was still pending at the time of the last state court decision; and
3) If the state does apply a new rule retroactively upon collateral review, federal habeas review should be available on the merits; and
4) Teague only applies to claims that were not reviewed on the merits in state court.

While AEDPA restricted some aspects of Teague, I am not sure that any of the pending cases clearly present the AEDPA-Teague interaction in a way that would permit resolution of that issue or would appeal to the Justices.

Posted by: tmm | Nov 8, 2013 4:42:24 PM

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