Funchess v. Prince, No. 142105, 2016 WL 756530 (E.D. La. Feb. 25, 2016) – Defendant, age 16 at the time of the crimes, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a mandatory sentence of life in prison. More than thirty years later, after Miller, defendant filed in state court a motion to correct his illegal sentence. The motion was denied on the ground that Miller does not apply retroactively. Defendant thereafter filed a petition for federal habeas corpus relief, asserting that his mandatory life sentence violated Miller. While his federal habeas petition was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in Montgomery that Miller applies retroactively. Thus, the issue central to defendant’s federal habeas petition became whether his life sentence fell within the ambit of Miller: defendant urged that his sentence was effectively a life without parole sentence, but the state contended that the defendant would be eligible for parole after serving 40 years. Although not entirely clear from the record, the district court ultimately determined that the defendant had been sentenced under the state’s former “two-step parole procedure.” At the time the defendant’s sentence was imposed, in 1979, two statutes were in effect that, in combination, meant that his “guilty plea to second degree murder required that he receive a sentence of life in prison without eligibility for parole for a period of 40 years and that, if he ever actually hoped to receive parole after 40 years, the governor commute his sentence” upon favorable recommendation from the Board of Pardons. That is, he would only be eligible for parole after his life sentence was commuted to a term-of-years sentence carrying parole eligibility. Parole under this system is rare: in 2014, only 64 of 931 applications garnered favorable recommendations from the Board of Pardons, and the state’s most recent governor granted clemency to only 83 persons during his 8 years in office. Thus “a life sentence under Louisiana’s ‘two-step parole procedure’ is—for all intents and purposes—a life sentence, regardless of whether the prisoner received a parole eligibility date.” Thus, the court concluded, Louisiana’s former two-step parole procedure did not provide a meaningful opportunity for release. It further held that the state court was unreasonable in failing to apply Miller and its progeny to defendant’s case. “The ‘two-step parole procedure’ clearly violates Miller in its application to juvenile offenders, and therefore, regardless of whether or not [defendant’s] record indicates that he is ‘eligible’ for parole, his sentence was unconstitutional.” In sum, because youth was not considered at sentencing and the court imposed what amounted to a mandatory life sentence with no meaningful opportunity to obtain release, Miller warranted habeas relief. Additional briefing ordered to determine relief warranted.