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Ex parte Williams

Supreme Court of Alabama

March 27, 2015

Ex parte Jimmy Williams, Jr.
v.
State of Alabama In re: Jimmy Williams, Jr.

          Montgomery Circuit Court, CC-98-2385.60; Court of Criminal Appeals, CR-12-1862.

         STUART, Justice. Bolin, Parker, Shaw, Main, Wise, and Bryan, JJ., concur. Moore, C.J., and Murdock, J., dissent.

          OPINION

Page 221

         PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS

         STUART, Justice.

         This Court issued the writ of certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals that the rule announced by the United States Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), does not apply retroactively to cases that became final before its pronouncement. We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In August 2000, Jimmy Williams, Jr., was convicted of murder made capital because it was committed during a robbery, see § 13A-5-40(a)(2), Ala. Code 1975, an offense he committed when he was 15 years old. In accordance with the applicable law at the time of Williams's sentencing, see § 13A-6-2(c), Ala. Code 1975, Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815, 817, 108 S.Ct. 2687, 101 L.Ed.2d 702 (1988), the trial court sentenced Williams to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the only possible sentence and one that was mandatory. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Williams's conviction and sentence. Williams v. State, 830 So.2d 45 (Ala.Crim.App. 2001), writ quashed, 830 So.2d 45 (Ala. 2002). The Court of Criminal Appeals issued its certificate of judgment in April 2002.

         In June 2013, Williams petitioned the circuit court, see Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., for a new sentencing hearing, asserting that under Miller, decided a year earlier, the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole to which he was sentenced in 2000 for an offense committed when he was 15 years old was unconstitutional and, consequently, that he was entitled to be resentenced based on the individualized sentencing factors discussed in Miller. Specifically, Williams alleged that, under Rule 32.1(a), a new sentence proceeding was required because, he said, his sentence of life imprisonment without parole was unconstitutional; that, under Rule 32.1(b), the trial court was without jurisdiction to impose the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole; and that, under Rule 32.1(c), his mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole was not authorized by law. The State moved to dismiss Williams's petition, asserting, among other reasons, that Miller did not apply retroactively to cases on collateral review, i.e., that Miller did not apply to cases that became final before its pronouncement. The circuit court dismissed Williams's petition, and Williams appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

         The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the circuit court's judgment, holding that Miller set forth a new rule of criminal procedure that did not apply to cases that had become final before its pronouncement and that, therefore, Williams was not entitled to a new sentencing hearing. Williams v. State, [Ms. CR-12-1862, April 4, 2014] 183 So.3d 198 (Ala.Crim.App. 2014). Specifically, that court held that Miller did not apply retroactively and, consequently, that Williams's sentence was not unconstitutional and he was not entitled to a new sentencing hearing under Rule 32.1(a). Additionally, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the trial court had jurisdiction to impose Williams's sentence and, therefore, that he was not entitled to relief under Rule 32.1(b) and that Williams's sentence to life imprisonment without parole was not illegal and, therefore, that Rule 32.1(c) did not provide a meritorious ground for relief.

         Standard of Review

          In criminal cases, this Court reviews pure questions of law de novo.

Page 222

Ex parte Harrison, 61 So.3d 986, 989-90 (Ala. 2010).

         Discussion

         In 2012, the United States Supreme Court addressed whether state statutes that mandate the imposition of a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a juvenile defendant convicted of a capital offense[1] violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Miller, 567 U.S. at __, 132 S.Ct. at 2460. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that a statute mandating a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a juvenile defendant violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court further held that the sentencing of a juvenile defendant must be individualized and that the sentencer must consider the juvenile defendant's age, the attendant circumstances of youth, and the nature of the offense before imposing a sentence. The Miller Court did not forbid the imposition of a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on a juvenile defendant; rather, the Court stated that such a sentence would be a rarity.

         In reaching its decision the Miller Court considered two lines of precedent. First, it evaluated the line of cases holding that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment categorically bans sentencing statutes that do not take into consideration the culpability of a class of offenders and the severity of the penalty imposed. See Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed.2d 825 (2010)(holding unconstitutional a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for juvenile offenders who committed a non-homicide offense); Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 125 S.Ct. 1183, 161 L.Ed.2d 1 (2005)(holding unconstitutional a sentence of death for a defendant who is under the age of 18 at the time the underlying offense is committed); and Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 122 S.Ct. 2242, 153 L.Ed.2d 335 (2002)(holding unconstitutional a sentence of death for an intellectually disabled defendant). These cases addressed a specific type of punishment for an identifiable class of defendants, adopting " categorical bans on sentencing practices based on mismatches between the culpability of a class of offenders and the severity of a penalty." Miller, 567 U.S. at __, 132 S.Ct. at 2463. From Graham and Roper, the Supreme Court observed that the sentencing of a juvenile is different from the sentencing of an adult because a juvenile, in light of his or her age, lacks maturity, is vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures, and is continuing to develop his or her character. The Supreme Court concluded that for these reasons " juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform" and thus are " 'less deserving of the most severe punishments.'" 567 U.S. at __; 132 S.Ct. at 2464.

         The Miller Court then considered the line of cases requiring a sentencer to conduct individualized sentencing when determining whether to impose a sentence of death. See Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 96 S.Ct. 2978, 49 L.Ed.2d 944 (1976)(plurality opinion)(holding that a mandatory death sentence for a firstdegree-murder conviction that precluded consideration of the character and the record of the defendant and circumstances surrounding the offense violated the Eighth Amendment); Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586,

Page 223

98 S.Ct. 2954, 57 L.Ed.2d 973 (1978)(holding that a statute mandating imposition of the death penalty for a capital-murder conviction violated the Eighth Amendment because it prevented individualized consideration of mitigating circumstances); and Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 105, 102 S.Ct. 869, 71 L.Ed.2d 1 (1982)(holding that the Eighth Amendment required individualized consideration of relevant mitigating circumstances including defendant's character and record before death sentence could be imposed). Recognizing that the Eighth Amendment required individualized sentencing for an adult defendant before the imposition of the most severe punishment of death and that the sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a juvenile defendant is the equivalent of a death sentence for an adult defendant, the Supreme Court held in Miller that the Eighth Amendment compelled individualized sentencing before a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole could be imposed on a juvenile defendant.

         Merging the two lines of precedent __ establishing, first, that juvenile defendants are less culpable and more susceptible to reform than are adult defendants and, second, that individualized sentencing was required before the harshest punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole could be imposed on juvenile defendants -- the Supreme Court held that " the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders." Miller, 567 U.S. at __, __, 132 S.Ct. at 2464, 2469.

         The Miller Court admonished:

" [G]iven all we have said in Roper, Graham, and this decision about children's diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change, we think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon. That is especially so because of the great difficulty we noted in Roper and Graham of distinguishing at this early age between 'the juvenile offender whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity, and the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.' ... Although we do not foreclose a sentencer's ability to [impose a sentence of life imprisonment without parole] in homicide cases, we require it to take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison."

567 U.S. at __, 132 S.Ct. at 2469.

         In accordance with Miller, this Court in Ex parte Henderson, 144 So.3d 1262, 1284 (Ala. 2013), held that a trial court must consider numerous factors before sentencing a juvenile defendant convicted of a capital offense, stating:

" We hold that a sentencing hearing for a juvenile convicted of a capital offense must now include consideration of: (1) the juvenile's chronological age at the time of the offense and the hallmark features of youth, such as immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences; (2) the juvenile's diminished culpability; (3) the circumstances of the offense; (4) the extent of the juvenile's participation in the crime; (5) the juvenile's family, home, and neighborhood environment; (6) the juvenile's emotional maturity and development; (7) whether familial and/or peer pressure affected the juvenile; (8) the juvenile's past exposure to violence; (9) the juvenile's drug and alcohol history; (10) the juvenile's ability to deal with the police; (11) the juvenile's capacity to assist his or her attorney; (12) the juvenile's mental-health history; (13) the

Page 224

juvenile's potential for rehabilitation; and (14) any other relevant factor related to the juvenile's youth. See generally Commonwealth v. Knox[, 2012 PA Super 147, 50 A.3d 732 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2012)]."

         In his Rule 32 petition, Williams sought the benefit of the application of the rule announced in Miller and applied in Henderson. Because Williams's conviction for capital murder and his sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole became final 11 years before the United States Supreme Court decided Miller, he is entitled to be resentenced if Miller applies retroactively to cases that became final before its pronouncement. Thus, the dispositive question before this Court is whether Miller is subject to retroactive application in cases on collateral review.

         In Whorton v. Bockting, 549 U.S. 406, 416, 127 S.Ct. 1173, 167 L.Ed.2d 1 (2007), the Supreme Court provided that, when determining whether a rule should be applied retroactively, a court must first determine whether the rule is a new rule or an old rule. The Supreme Court held that " an old rule applies both on direct and collateral review, but a new rule is generally applicable only to cases that are still on direct review." 549 U.S. at 416. The Supreme Court defined a new rule as " 'a rule that ... was not " dictated by precedent existing at the time the defendant's conviction became final." '" 549 U.S. at 416 (quoting Saffle v. Parks, 494 U.S. 484, 488, 110 S.Ct. 1257, 108 L.Ed.2d 415 (1990), quoting in turn Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 301, 109 S.Ct. 1060, 103 L.Ed.2d 334 (1989)). For a new rule to apply to cases that are already final, " the Court's holdings [must] logically permit no other conclusion than that the rule is retroactive." Tyler v. Cain, 533 U.S. 656, 669, 121 S.Ct. 2478, 150 L.Ed.2d 632 (2001)(O'Connor, J., concurring).

         In Ex parte Harris, 947 So.2d 1139, 1143-47 (Ala. 2006), this Court recognized that, in determining whether a new rule of constitutional law applies retroactively, Alabama had adopted the analysis provided by the United States Supreme Court in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 109 S.Ct. 1060, 103 L.Ed.2d 334 (1989).[2] Teague established that " a case announces a new rule when it breaks ground or imposes a new obligation on the States or Federal Government." 489 U.S. at 301. Teague provided that " new rules should always be applied retroactively to cases on direct review, but ... generally they should not be applied retroactively to criminal cases on collateral review." 489 U.S. at 303. The Teague Court reasoned that because collateral review is not a substitute for direct review and because the government has a legitimate interest in the finality of judgments, new rules of constitutional law should not be applied retroactively unless special circumstances exist. Teague set forth two exceptions to the general rule of nonretroactivity for new rules in criminal cases

Page 225

on collateral review: First, a new rule should be applied retroactively when the new rule " places 'certain kinds of primary, private individual conduct beyond the power of the criminal law-making authority to proscribe,'" 489 U.S. at 311 (quoting Mackey v. United States, 401 U.S. 667, 692, 91 S.Ct. 1160, 28 L.Ed.2d 404 (1971)(Harlan, J., concurring in the judgments in part and dissenting in part)); second, a new procedural rule should be applied retroactively on collateral review when the new rule " requires the observance of 'those procedures that ... are " implicit in the concept of ordered liberty." '" 489 U.S. at 311 (quoting Mackey, 401 U.S. at 692).

         The United States Supreme Court in Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U.S. 348, 124 S.Ct. 2519, 159 L.Ed.2d 442 (2004), provided further explanation of the Teague retroactivity analysis, observing that the key distinction in the analysis is whether the new rule of constitutional law is substantive or procedural. The Summerlin Court explained that a substantive rule is one that limits a criminal statute by interpreting its terms or " place[s] particular conduct or persons covered by the statute beyond the State's power to punish." 542 U.S. at 352. The Summerlin Court further explained with regard to punishment that a new substantive rule included a rule prohibiting a certain category of punishment for a group of defendants because of their status or offense. 542 U.S. at 353. According to the Summerlin Court, such a rule is substantive and applies retroactively because the new rule carries a " 'significant risk that a defendant stands convicted of " an act that the law does not make criminal" ' or faces a punishment that the law cannot impose upon him." 542 U.S. at 352.

         Alternatively, the Summerlin Court explained that new procedural rules do not apply retroactively because they " merely raise the possibility that someone convicted with use of the invalidated procedure might have been acquitted otherwise." 542 U.S. at 352 (emphasis added). The Supreme Court reasoned that in light of " this more speculative connection to innocence," a new procedural rule is watershed and applies retroactively only when the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal ...


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