Thursday, December 6, 2012

Illinois court: Miller is retroactive

Here is a post from Sentencing Law and Policy, the blog of Ohio State law professor Douglas A. Berman, examining two Illinois state appellate court decisions finding that Miller v. Alabama should be fully retroactive and therefore applicable to defendants already sentenced and serving life in prison.

The first panel to rule, in State v. Williams, 2012 IL App (1st) 111145 (Nov. 27, 2012), explained its holding in these terms:

We hold that the Supreme Court's decision in Miller should be retroactively applied in this case because it is a rule that requires the observance of those procedures that are implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.... [U]nder the proportionate punishment analysis in Miller, defendant was denied a "basic 'precept of justice'" by not receiving any consideration of his age from the circuit court in sentencing....

A new rule of criminal procedure applies retroactively in those instances where it has made a substantial or substantive change in the law.... We find that Miller not only changed procedures, but also made a substantial change in the law in holding under the eighth amendment that the government cannot constitutionally apply a mandatory sentence of life without parole for homicides committed by juveniles. Life without parole is justified only where the State shows that it is appropriate and fitting regardless of the defendant's age. We hold that Miller is such a " 'watershed rule[] of criminal procedure.' "

The second panel to rule, in State v. Morfin, 2012 IL App (1st) 103568 (Nov. 30, 2012), explained its holding in these terms:

We conclude that, pursuant to Teague, Miller v. Alabama is applicable retroactively on collateral review. Miller creates a new rule of law that was not required by either the precedents on what penalties a minor constitutionally cannot receive (Roper and Graham) or by the cases cited in Miller requiring sentencing discretion for the death penalty.... However, we find that Miller constitutes a new substantive rule. While it does not forbid a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for a minor, it does require Illinois courts to hold a sentencing hearing for every minor convicted of first degree murder at which a sentence other than natural life imprisonment must be available for consideration. Miller mandates a sentencing range broader than that provided by statute for minors convicted of first degree murder who could otherwise receive only natural life imprisonment.

Pennsylvania is awaiting a decision on Miller's retroactivity from the state's Supreme Court.

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