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Burns v. Wallace

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

March 12, 2019

STERLING BURNS, Petitioner,
v.
IAN WALLACE, Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          E. RICHARD WEBBER, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Petitioner Sterling Burn's Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody [1].

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 14, 1995, Petitioner Sterling Burns (“Petitioner”) was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court of the City of Saint Louis, Missouri to one count of first-degree murder and one count of armed criminal action. The Circuit Court sentenced seventeen-year old Petitioner to life without parole for the first-degree murder conviction and life with the possibility of parole for the armed criminal action conviction.[1] Petitioner appealed his convictions, which were affirmed by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District.

         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 the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution 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 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 24, 2013, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus 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.

         Petitioner filed his Motion to Vacate in this Court on March 16, 2016. On July 13, 2016, the Governor signed into law Missouri Senate Bill No. 590 (“S.B. 590”), 98th General Assembly, which states, in relevant part:

1. (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, . . . after serving twenty-five years of incarceration.
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4. The parole board shall hold a hearing and determine if the defendant shall be granted parole.

(codified at Mo. Rev. Stat. § 558.047).

         On July 19, 2016, the Missouri Supreme Court issued an order, in light of S.B. 590, vacating its March 15, 2016 order granting Petitioner parole eligibility, overruling Petitioner's Motion for Rehearing as moot, and denying Petitioner's state court petition.

         In his Amended Petition, Petitioner asserts five claims: (1) the Missouri Supreme Court's July 2016 Order misapplied Miller and its progeny and tacitly upheld an unconstitutional act of the Missouri legislature; (2) S.B. ...


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