United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Norman Brown, Ralph McElroy, Sidney Roberts, and Theron
Roland are serving Missouri prison sentences for first-degree
murder offenses committed when they were less than 18 years
of age. Each originally received a sentence of life without
the possibility of parole. However, the United States Supreme
Court recently held that a mandatory sentence of life without
parole for a person who was under the age of 18 when he
committed the offense violates the Eighth Amendment
prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. After the
Supreme Court clarified that this holding applies
retroactively, the Missouri legislature enacted a law
permitting those who had been convicted to life without the
possibility of parole for offenses they committed as
juveniles to petition for parole after serving 25 years in
prison. Each of the plaintiffs then petitioned for, but was
denied, parole. Each is scheduled for reconsideration of the
parole determination in five years.
allege in their first amended complaint that Missouri's
parole policies and practices violate their rights to be free
from cruel and unusual punishment and their rights to due
process under the Constitutions of both the United States and
Missouri. They sue the Director of the Missouri Department of
Corrections and members of the Missouri Board of Probation
and Parole (the “Board”), seeking declaratory and
injunctive relief. Plaintiffs seek to represent a class of
offenders sentenced to life without parole for crimes
committed as juveniles.
have moved to dismiss and Plaintiffs have moved for leave to
file a second amended complaint to add a new count for
declaratory judgment concerning Defendants' alleged
failure to satisfy Missouri Revised Statutes Sections
558.047.5 and 565.033.2. Plaintiffs also seek to compel
production of certain categories of information that
Defendants object to producing.
The Legal Background
Constitutional Limitations on Sentences for
in the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment against cruel
and unusual punishment prohibits subjecting an individual
“to excessive sanctions.” Roper v.
Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 560 (2005). In a series of cases
over the last eight years, the United States Supreme Court
has concluded that the imposition of the sentence of life
without parole on those who were under the age of eighteen
when they committed an offense generally violates this
prohibition. First, in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S.
48 (2010), the Supreme Court held that sentencing juvenile,
non-homicide offenders to life without the possibility of
parole violates the Eighth Amendment. Subsequently, in
Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), the Supreme
Court held that mandatory life without parole for juvenile
homicide offenders, too, violates the Eighth Amendment.
Finally, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718
(2016), the Supreme Court clarified that
Miller's holding constitutes substantive law
that must be applied retroactively to offenders already
facing mandatory life in prison. The Supreme Court explained
that a state need not guarantee freedom to the juvenile
offender, but the sentence must provide “some
meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on
demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”
Miller, 567 U.S. at 479 (quoting Graham,
560 U.S. at 75); see also Montgomery, 136 S.Ct. at
736 (“Those prisoners who have shown an inability to
reform will continue to serve life sentences. The opportunity
for release will be afforded to those who demonstrate . . .
that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of
rationale for treating juvenile offenders differently from
adult offenders is simply that “children are different
. . . .” Miller, 567 U.S. at 481.
“[D]evelopments in psychology and brain science
continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and
adult minds.” Graham, 560 U.S. at 68. As
First, children have a lack of maturity and an underdeveloped
sense of responsibility, leading to recklessness,
impulsivity, and heedless risk-taking. Second, children are
more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures,
including from their family and peers; they have limited
control over their own environment and lack the ability to
extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings.
And third, a child's character is not as well formed as
an adult's; his traits are less fixed and his actions
less likely to be evidence of irretrievable depravity.
Miller, 567 U.S. at 471 (quotation marks and
citations omitted). Youth “is a time of immaturity,
irresponsibility, impetuousness, and recklessness.”
Id. at 476 (quotation marks and citation omitted).
It is “a condition of life when a person may be most
susceptible to influence and to psychological damage.”
Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted).
of the brain involved in behavior control continue to mature
through late adolescence.” Graham, 560 U.S. at
68. Studies have shown that “only a relatively small
proportion of adolescents who engage in illegal activity
develop entrenched patterns of problem behavior.”
Miller, 567 U.S. at 471 (quotation marks and
citation omitted). Thus, the actions of a juvenile “are
less likely to be evidence of irretrievably depraved
character than are the actions of adults.”
Graham, 560 U.S. at 68 (quotation marks and citation
“a greater possibility exists that a minor's
character deficiencies will be reformed, ” it
“would be misguided” to treat a juvenile offender
in the same fashion as an adult. Id. (quotation
marks and citation omitted). A mandatory sentence of life
without parole takes no account of the fact that the
“signature qualities” of youth described above
“are all transient.” Miller, 567 U.S. at
476 (quotation marks and citation omitted). As
Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes
consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark
features-among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to
appreciate risks and consequences. It prevents taking into
account the family and home environment that surrounds
him-and from which he cannot usually extricate himself-no
matter how brutal or dysfunctional. . . . It ignores that he
might have been charged and convicted of a lesser offense if
not for incompetencies associated with youth-for example, his
inability to deal with police officers or prosecutors
(including on a plea agreement) or his incapacity to assist
his own attorneys.
Id. at 477-78. The sentence of life without parole
for a juvenile “disregards the possibility of
rehabilitation even when the circumstances most suggest
it.” Id. at 478.
the rule enunciated in Miller applies retroactively,
it “does not require States to relitigate sentences,
let alone convictions, in every case where a juvenile
offender received mandatory life without parole.”
Montgomery, 136 S.Ct. at 736. “A State may
remedy a Miller violation by permitting juvenile
homicide offenders to be considered for parole, rather than
by resentencing them.” Id. at 736.
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court noted that
“Miller did bar life without parole . . . for
all but the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes
reflect permanent incorrigibility.” Id. at
734. “[G]iven . . . children's diminished
culpability and heightened capacity for change, . . .
appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this
harshest possible penalty” are supposed to “be
uncommon.” Miller, 567 U.S. at 479.
Missouri Law on Juveniles Serving Life Without
Montgomery, the Missouri legislature amended state
law to permit those who were sentenced to mandatory life
without parole for offenses committed when they were
juveniles to petition for parole after serving 25 years in
prison. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 558.047. The
amended law provides, in relevant part:
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 . . . after
serving twenty-five years of incarceration on the sentence of
life without parole.
Mo. Rev. Stat. § 558.047.1.1.
statute requires the Board to hold a hearing to determine
whether parole is appropriate. See Mo. Rev. Stat.
§ 558.047.4. It also enumerates factors that the Board
(1) Efforts made toward rehabilitation since the offense or
offenses occurred, including participation in educational,
vocational, or other programs during incarceration, when
(2) The subsequent growth and increased maturity of the
person since the offense or offenses occurred;
(3) Evidence that the person has accepted accountability for
the offense or offenses, except in cases where the person has
maintained his or her innocence;
(4) The person's institutional record during
(5) Whether the person remains the same risk to society as he
or she did at the time of the initial sentencing.
Mo. Rev. Stat. § 558.047.5. The statute also
incorporates by reference the following additional factors
that the Board must consider (see id.):
(1) The nature and circumstances of the offense committed by
(2) The degree of the defendant's culpability in light of
his or her age and role in the offense;
(3) The defendant's age, maturity, intellectual capacity,
and mental and emotional health and development at the time
of the offense;
(4) The defendant's background, including his or her
family, home, and community environment;
(5) The likelihood for rehabilitation of the defendant;
(6) The extent of the defendant's participation in the
(7) The effect of familial pressure or peer pressure on the
(8) The nature and extent of the defendant's prior
criminal history, including whether the offense was committed
by a person with a prior record of conviction for murder in
the first degree, or one or more serious assaultive criminal
(9) The effect of characteristics attributable to the
defendant's youth on the defendant's judgment; and
(10) A statement by the victim or the victim's family
member as provided by [other specified statutes].
Mo. Rev. Stat. § 565.033.2.
The Alleged Facts
allege that, although they now are eligible for parole under
Missouri law, they have been denied a meaningful opportunity
for release, in violation of their constitutional rights,
because of the policies, procedures, and customs of the
defendants-the Missouri Director of Corrections and each of
the members of the Board.
allege that the Board, which has sole authority to grant or
deny parole applications, is “a political body long
criticized for its arbitrariness, dysfunction, and lack of
transparency.” Doc. 22, ¶ 60. The Board also
presides over too many hearings to fairly consider the
plaintiffs' applications. The full board may decide a
prisoner's petition, even when only a subset-often even
just one Board member-sits on the hearing panel. The Board
has “historically ...