State ex rel. Carr v. Wallace, No. SC 93487, 2017 WL 2952314 (Mo. July 11, 2017) – Defendant, age 16 at the time of the crimes, was convicted of three counts of capital murder and sentenced to three concurrent terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years. His mandatory sentences were imposed without any consideration of youth. (Because the state did not seek the death penalty in this case, the only sentence the defendant could receive was life without the possibility of parole for 50 years. Moreover, the defense was not required to and did not present any mitigating evidence prior to sentencing.) In this petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the defendant argued that his sentences violated Miller. The Supreme Court of Missouri agreed. It explained that Miller applied because the defendant “was sentenced to the harshest penalty other than death available under a mandatory sentencing scheme without the jury having any opportunity to consider the mitigating and attendant circumstances of his youth.” It thus held that because the defendant “was sentenced under a mandatory sentencing scheme that afforded the sentencer no opportunity to consider his age, maturity, limited control over his environment, the transient characteristics attendant to youth, or his capacity for rehabilitation,” his sentences “were imposed in direct contravention of the foundational principle that imposition of a state’s most severe penalties on juvenile offenders cannot proceed as though they were not children.” Accordingly, it granted habeas relief to permit the defendant to be resentenced “so his youth and other attendant circumstances surrounding his offense can be taken into consideration to ensure he will not be forced to serve a disproportionate sentence in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”
The court noted that the record in the case reflected that many of the mitigating factors of youth were relevant to the defendant at the time he committed the offenses. It prescribed resentencing as outlined by Hart, pursuant to which the sentencer must consider whether the defendant’s sentences were “just and appropriate considering his youth, maturity, and the other Miller factors.” The defendant could elect to have a jury resentence him; if he did, the jury “must be instructed properly that it may not assess and declare his punishment for capital murder should be life without the possibility of parole for 50 years unless it is persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that this sentence is just and appropriate under all the circumstances.” If, after considering all the circumstances, the sentencer determined that the defendant qualified for a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole-for-50-years sentence, that would be the only authorized statutory sentence. If the sentencer did not so decide, however, the trial court would declare the applicable sentencing statute void as applied to the defendant on the ground that it did not provide a constitutionally valid punishment. In that case, the trial court would be required to vacate the verdict finding the defendant guilty of capital murder and enter a new finding that he is guilty of murder in the second degree. Then the sentencer could determine a sentence based on the statutory range applicable to that offense. Habeas relief granted.