United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division
JOSHUA A. WOLF, Petitioner,
JAY CASSADY, Respondent.
ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS
is Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus. (Doc.
30.) For the following reasons, the petition is
DENIED and the Court declines to issue a
certificate of appealability.
was sixteen years old when he was convicted of first-degree
murder, armed criminal action, and second-degree arson in
2001. He was sentenced to life in prison without the
possibility of parole. In March 2013, Petitioner filed a writ
of habeas corpus with the Missouri Supreme Court, arguing
“his sentence was unconstitutional, because he was
sentenced to mandatory life without parole for a homicide he
committed as a minor.” (Doc. 30, p. 6.) In March 2016,
the Missouri Supreme Court granted in part and denied in part
Petitioner's request. The Court stated that due to the
enactment of Missouri Revised Statute § 558.047,
petitioner would be eligible for parole after serving
twenty-five years of his original sentence.
then instituted this proceeding. However, due to uncertainty
as to whether Petitioner had exhausted all available state
remedies, the Court stayed this action. (Doc. 23.) Petitioner
then filed another petition for a writ of habeas corpus in
state court, this time challenging the constitutionality of
§ 558.047. The Circuit Court of Cole County denied his
petition and the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed. In July
2018, Petitioner filed another petition directly in the
Supreme Court of Missouri, which similarly denied the
August 9, 2018, Petitioner filed an amended petition for writ
of habeas corpus with this Court. (Doc. 30.) In his petition
for writ of habeas corpus, Petitioner brings two arguments.
First, Petitioner argues his sentence is unconstitutional
under Supreme Court precedent which prohibits sentencing
juveniles to life without parole without also considering the
juvenile's individual circumstances. Second, Petitioner
argues that denying habeas relief would violate his right to
Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The
Government argues that Petitioner's first claim is moot
because a § 558.047 allows Petitioner to be considered
for parole after he has served twenty-five years of his
sentence. Thus, the Government argues, Petitioner is no
longer serving an unconstitutional sentence of life without
the possibility of parole as a juvenile. The Government also
argues that the parole hearing contemplated by Missouri law
is an adequate and meaningful opportunity for release as set
forth in Miller v. Alabama. The Court resolves the
parties' arguments below.
the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, a district
court can grant habeas relief only if a state court decision
“was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of, clearly established Federal law, as
determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or . .
. resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented
in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C §
2254(d). A decision is contrary to or involves an
unreasonable application of Federal law if it is “in
conflict with” Federal law. Williams v.
Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 388 (2000). “[I]t is not an
unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law
for a state court to decline to apply a specific legal rule
that has not been squarely established by [the U.S. Supreme
Court].” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86,
101 (2011) (quoting Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S.
111, 122 (2009)). This determination requires federal judges
to “attend with the utmost care to state-court
decisions, including all of the reasons supporting their
decisions, before concluding that those proceedings were
infected by constitutional error sufficiently serious to
warrant the issuance of the writ.” Williams v.
Taylor, 529 U.S. at 386.
Supreme Court Precedent
first claims that his sentence is unconstitutional in light
of Roper v. Simmons; Graham v. Florida; and
Miller v. Alabama. In Roper, the Supreme
Court held that the execution of individuals who were minors
at the time of their offense violates the Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendments. Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S.
551, 568 (2005). In Graham, the Supreme Court held
that (1) the Eighth Amendment prohibits imposing a sentence
of life without parole on juvenile offenders who have not
committed homicide, and (2) the State must give nonhomicide
juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole a
“meaningful” opportunity to obtain release.
Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 74-75 (2010). The
Supreme Court extended this reasoning in Miller,
holding that the Eighth Amendment “forbids a sentencing
scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of
parole for juvenile offenders.” Miller v.
Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 479 (2012). Subsequently, in
Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court found
Miller's holding to be substantive law that must
be applied retroactively. Montgomery v. Louisiana,
136 S.Ct. 718, 734 (2016).
light of Montgomery, the Missouri legislature passed
Senate Bill 590, 98th General Assembly (codified as Mo. Rev.
Stat. § 558.047.) Section 558.047 states that any
juvenile sentenced to life imprisonment without the
possibility of parole prior to August 28, 2016, “may
submit to the parole board a petition for 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. The statute directs the
parole board to hold a hearing to determine whether the
defendant should be granted parole. Mo. Rev. Stat. §
558.047.4. In the hearing, the board is to consider five
(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