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Davis v. Bowersox

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

January 26, 2017

MICHAEL L DAVIS, Petitioner,
v.
MICHAEL BOWERSOX, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER (1) GRANTING PETITIONER'S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO FILE AMENDED PETITION FOR HABEAS CORPUS, AND (2) GRANTING PETITIONER'S MOTION TO STAY PROCEEDINGS

          ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Petitioner Michael L. Davis (“Davis”) response (doc. 13) to the Court's Show Cause Order (doc. 12), a Motion to Stay Proceedings (doc. 14) and a Motion for Leave to File Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (doc. 15). Respondents have filed a response in which they address all three filings as well as the merits of Davis' amended petition. (Doc. 21.) After careful consideration, the Court GRANTS Davis' motions and further finds that this case should be STAYED and ADMINISTRATIVELY CLOSED pursuant to the principles set forth in Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 274 (2005).

         I. Background

         Davis is currently in custody under a state-court judgment and files this federal habeas proceeding pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A jury convicted Davis of first degree murder and armed criminal action in Jackson County Circuit Court, Case No. CR1996-72136. On January 29, 1998, Davis was sentenced to consecutive terms of life without parole for the murder conviction and 100 years' imprisonment for the armed criminal action conviction. At the time of the offense, Davis was seventeen years old. On February 23, 1999, Davis' direct appeal from the judgment of conviction was affirmed in State v. Davis, Cause No. WD55674; there was no post-conviction proceeding.

         More than a decade after his conviction and sentence, the United States Supreme Court decided cases that limit the use of life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders. Davis relies on two such cases, Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012) and Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010). The United States Supreme Court in Graham held that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments bars the use of life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses. 560 U.S. 48. A fundamental principle in Graham was that the imposition of the most severe penalties on juvenile offenders cannot proceed without taking youth into consideration. Id. at 78. Two years later, the United States Supreme Court in Miller held that the Eighth Amendment also forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life without parole for juvenile homicide offenders. 132 S.Ct. 2455. Miller emphasized that to satisfy the Eighth Amendment, there must be an opportunity for individualized consideration before imposing life without parole on a juvenile offender. Id. at 2475.

         On June 19, 2013, Davis filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of Missouri, Case No. SC93475, asking that his sentence be brought in conformity with Miller and Graham. While the action was pending, the United States Supreme Court decided Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), making Miller fully retroactive. In Davis' habeas action, he argued that his sentence was unconstitutional (1) under Miller and Montgomery because he was sentenced to mandatory life without parole as a juvenile homicide offender, and (2) under Graham because he was sentenced to a de facto sentence of life without parole as a juvenile on a non-homicide offense.

         On March 15, 2016, the Missouri Supreme Court granted Davis' petition in part. The Missouri Supreme Court ordered that Davis would be eligible for parole on his life-without-parole sentence once he has served twenty-five years; and all other claims were dismissed without prejudice. Six days later, Davis filed the instant federal habeas action. Meanwhile, in the state habeas action, Davis filed a motion for reconsideration or rehearing in which he argued that the March 15, 2016 Order was in excess of the court's authority, and that the order did not satisfy Miller and Montgomery.

         On July 13, 2016, a new Missouri law went into effect. Missouri's Senate Bill No. 590 (“S.B. 590”), codified in Missouri Revised Statute § 558.047.1(1), provides that juvenile offenders who have previously received a life-without-parole sentence may be considered for parole after serving twenty-five years of their sentence. The statute reads as follows:

Any person sentenced to a term of imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole before August 28, 2016, who was under eighteen years of age at the time of the commission of the offense or offenses, may submit to the parole board a petition for a review of his or her sentence, regardless of whether the case is final for purposes of appeal, after serving twenty-five years of incarceration on the sentence of life without parole.

Mo. Rev. Stat. § 558.047.1(1)

         On July 19, 2016, the Missouri Supreme Court vacated its March 15, 2016 Order in light of the enactment of S.B. 590. In that order, the Missouri Supreme Court denied Davis' petition and dismissed all pending motions as moot.

         In the instant proceeding, Davis raises claims under (1) Miller and Montgomery and (2) Graham. With respect to his claim under Miller and Montgomery, Davis argues that the Missouri Supreme Court's March 15, 2016 Order exceeded the court's authority. After the Missouri Supreme Court vacated that order on July 20, 2016, this Court directed Davis to show cause why this action should not be dismissed as moot in light of the enactment of S.B. 590 and the Missouri Supreme Court's July 20, 2016 Order. The Court further directed that Davis demonstrate exhaustion of state remedies for any portions of the petition Davis contends are not moot. (Doc. 12.)

         Davis filed his response to the Order on November 3, 2016 (doc. 13), and concurrently filed a Motion to Stay Proceedings (doc. 14) and a Motion for Leave to File Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (doc. 15). The Court takes up the three filings in turn.

         II. ...


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