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Davis v. Griffith

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

November 17, 2017

SHERON DAVIS, Petitioner,
v.
CINDY GRIFFITH, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CHARLES SHAW, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on state prisoner Sheron Davis's action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Noelle C. Collins for report and recommendation on all dispositive matters and for final disposition on all non-dispositive matters, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).

         On August 17, 2017, Judge Collins filed a Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge which recommended that Davis's First Amended Petition be denied and the case dismissed without prejudice, and that his second motion for stay be denied. Judge Collins concluded that dismissal without prejudice is required because all of petitioner's claims are unexhausted and he has not met his burden to show that exceptional circumstances exist, and that a stay is not appropriate because the petition does not include any exhausted claims.

         Petitioner filed timely objections to the Report and Recommendation, asserting that his claims have been exhausted in the Missouri courts because Section 558.074, Mo. Rev. Stat., merely codifies what the Missouri Supreme Court already decreed in his state habeas petition, and that he has consistently argued Missouri's scheme of providing the opportunity to apply for parole eligibility after twenty-five years does not meet the constitutional requirements of the Supreme Court's decisions in Miller and Montgomery.[1] Petitioner contends he has fully litigated his Miller issues before the Missouri Supreme Court, and a Rule 91 habeas petition would be futile under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(B) because the Missouri Supreme Court has declared that the ability to apply for parole after twenty-five years is a sufficient Miller remedy. Petitioner argues that as a result, the state courts would not give any Rule 91 petition he might file a meaningful review. Petitioner also argues that if he is required to return to state court, this Court should stay the case because his only opportunity to seek timely relief under Miller is this habeas petition.

         The Court has carefully reviewed petitioner's objections and the entire record of this matter. Following de novo review, the Court concurs in the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, as contained in the well-reasoned and thorough Report and Recommendation.

         I. Background

         The background of this case was fully set forth by the Magistrate Judge, and the Court will repeat it here verbatim without further attribution.

         Petitioner was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court of St. Louis, Missouri, of murder in the first degree (Count I) and of armed criminal action (Count II). See State v. Davis, No. 22991-03429A (22nd Judicial Circuit, St. Louis City). On November 16, 2000, the Circuit Court sentenced Petitioner, a juvenile at the time of the offense, to a term of life without the possibility of parole on Count I to be served concurrently with a term of life on Count II. Id. On November 27, 2001, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District affirmed the judgment. See State v. Davis, 66 S.W.3d 109 (Mo.Ct.App. 2001). Petitioner's request for transfer to the Missouri Supreme Court was denied on February 26, 2002. See State v. Davis, SC84238 (Mo. 2002). Petitioner then filed a motion for post-conviction relief which was denied on June 26, 2002. See Davis v. State, 2202P-04257 (22nd Judicial Circuit, St. Louis City). Petitioner concedes that he did not raise any of the issues asserted in his Amended Petition before the post-conviction court (See Doc. 12 at 2). Petitioner did not appeal the motion court's decision.

         On June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). In Miller, the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders. Id. at 479. On January 27, 2016, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), holding that the rule of Miller must be retroactively applied to persons sentenced to mandatory life without parole for juvenile sentences before Miller was decided. Id. at 732.

         On June 18, 2013, Petitioner filed a petition in the Missouri Supreme Court alleging that his sentence was unconstitutional in light of Miller. On March 15, 2016, the Missouri Supreme Court issued an order in Petitioner's case, as well as all other similarly situated cases, stating:

NOW, THEREFORE, this Court, in order to comply with the constitutional requirements of Miller and Montgomery, hereby orders that this petition be sustained in part. This petitioner shall be eligible to apply for parole after serving 25 years' imprisonment on his sentence of life without parole unless his sentence is otherwise brought into conformity with Miller and Montgomery by action of the governor or enactment of necessary legislation. All other claims alleged in the petition and pending motions are denied without prejudice.

         On March 21, 2016, Petitioner filed his Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in this Court raising the following two grounds for relief:

(1) Petitioner was denied due process of law and equal protection when the Missouri Supreme Court illegally altered his sentence and upheld his conviction for first degree murder; and
(2) Petitioner has been denied the right to a reasonable opportunity for release, which the United States Supreme Court has said is required for juveniles convicted of homicide, because Missouri's parole law provides no guidance or requirement ...

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