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Steward v. Lewis

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

February 13, 2019

JASON LEWIS, et al.,[1] Respondents.



         This matter is before the Court on Missouri state prisoner Donald Steward's petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Because all of the claims raised by Steward are unexhausted, I will dismiss the petition.

         Procedural History

         In May 1988, Steward was sentenced in the Circuit Court of St. Louis City, Missouri, to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole on two counts of murder first degree, and to a consecutive term of fifteen years' imprisonment on one count of burglary first degree. Steward was a juvenile at the time he committed the offenses. His conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal, State v. Steward, 776 S.W.2d 854 (Mo.Ct.App. 1989); and he was unsuccessful in his bid for post-conviction relief under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15. Steward v. State, 784 S.W.2d 853 (Mo.Ct.App. 1990).

         On June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), in which it held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders. The Court reasoned that “[m]andatory 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, ” the “family and home environment that surrounds him - and from which he cannot usually extricate himself - no matter how brutal or dysfunctional, ” the “circumstances of the homicide offense, ” and “the possibility of rehabilitation[.]” Id. at 477-78. Based on Miller, Steward filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Missouri Supreme Court in June 2013, arguing that he was entitled to be resentenced given the unconstitutionality of his original sentence.

         On January 27, 2016, while Steward's petition was still pending, the United States Supreme Court decided Montgomery v. Louisiana, which held that Miller announced a new substantive constitutional rule that applied retroactively to cases on collateral review. 136 S.Ct. 718, 736 (2016). The Court clarified, however, that this retroactive application “does not require States to relitigate sentences, let alone convictions, in every case where a juvenile offender received mandatory life without parole. A State may remedy a Miller violation by permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole, rather than by resentencing them.” Id. Regarding this remedy, the Court cited a Wyoming statute that allows a juvenile convicted of homicide to be eligible for parole after 25 years of incarceration. Id. (citing Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-10-301(c) (2013)). The Court specifically held that “[a]llowing those offenders to be considered for parole ensures that juveniles whose crimes reflected only transient immaturity - and who have since matured - will not be forced to serve a disproportionate sentence in violation of the Eighth Amendment.” Id.

         On March 15, 2016, the Missouri Supreme Court issued an order in Steward's habeas case and in all other similarly situated cases, stating that the Missouri General Assembly had yet to enact a constitutionally valid sentencing provision in accordance with Miller and Montgomery. Therefore, the Missouri Supreme Court granted Steward's petition in part and ordered that he (and those similarly situated) would be eligible to apply for parole after 25 years' imprisonment on their sentences of life without parole unless their sentences were otherwise brought into conformity with Miller and Montgomery by the action of the governor or enactment of necessary legislation.

         Steward filed this federal habeas petition in this Court on March 24, 2016, arguing that the Missouri Supreme Court's March 15 order violated his constitutional rights because it: 1) illegally altered his sentence and upheld his conviction for first degree murder; and 2) denied him the right to a reasonable opportunity for release. Steward also raised a speculative claim that if he was required to serve his consecutive sentences before being considered for parole, such requirement would violate his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. (ECF #1.) Steward amended his petition on March 30, 2016, to raise additional claims, and specifically, that the Missouri Supreme Court: 1) lacked authority to rewrite sentencing provisions that had been promulgated by the legislature; 2) failed to meaningfully effectuate Miller's sentencing mandates; and 3) violated his rights to equal protection and to counsel, and committed other sentencing law violations. (ECF #4.)[2]

         On July 13, 2016, the governor signed into law Missouri Senate Bill No. 590 (SB 590), 98th General Assembly, which states, in relevant part:

1. 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.
4. The parole board shall hold a hearing and determine if the defendant shall be granted parole.

Codified at Mo. Rev. Stat. § 558.047. In light of SB 590, the Missouri Supreme Court issued an order on July 19, 2016, vacating its March 15 order, overruling as moot the motions for rehearing or resentencing filed by Steward and others, and denying Steward's and others' state-court petitions for habeas corpus.

         Given this development, Steward filed a second amended petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court (ECF #16), raising the following grounds for relief:

(1) That he was denied due process of law when the Missouri Supreme Court denied his request for habeas corpus relief because SB 590 does not give him a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on ...

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