United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CATHERINE D. PERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT
matter is before the Court on Missouri state prisoner Marcus
McCombs' petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28
U.S.C. § 2254. Because I do not have jurisdiction over
McCombs' claims, I will dismiss the petition.
December 1997, McCombs was sentenced in the Circuit Court of
St. Louis City, Missouri, to a term of life imprisonment
without eligibility for parole for murder first degree, a
consecutive term of life imprisonment with parole for armed
criminal action, and consecutive terms of seven years'
imprisonment for burglary first degree and felony stealing.
McCombs was a juvenile at the time he committed the offenses.
His conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal.
State v. McCombs, 987 S.W.2d 511 (Mo.Ct.App. 1999).
McCombs thereafter filed a motion for post-conviction relief
under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15, which was
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, McCombs filed a petition for writ of habeas
corpus in the Missouri Supreme Court in June 2013, arguing
that he was entitled to have his conviction and sentence
vacated and/or be resentenced given the unconstitutionality
of his original sentence.
January 27, 2016, while McCombs' 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.
March 15, 2016, the Missouri Supreme Court issued an order in
McCombs' 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 McCombs'
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
Federal Habeas Petition
March 16, 2016, one day after the Missouri Supreme
Court's order, McCombs filed this federal habeas petition
raising two grounds for relief. First, McCombs claimed that
the Missouri Supreme Court's March 15 order violated his
right to due process because it illegally altered his
sentence and upheld his conviction for first degree murder.
McCombs argued specifically that the Missouri Supreme Court
had no authority to alter sentencing statutes or create a new
sentence, given that that is a legislative function. In his
second ground for relief, McCombs argued that the Missouri
Supreme Court's March 15 order denied him the right to a
reasonable opportunity for release as required under
Miller and Montgomery, given that, under
the terms of the order, the parole board retained its
discretion as to whether to grant parole.
filed their response to McCombs' claims on June 13, 2016,
and noted that McCombs had filed a motion in the Missouri
Supreme Court for rehearing and that the motion remained
pending. Given the pendency of this state-court action,
respondents argued that the claims raised in the federal
petition were unexhausted and, further, that I should decline
to exercise jurisdiction over the petition under the
Younger abstention doctrine. Respondents also
argued that the claims were without merit. Although given the
opportunity, McCombs did not reply to the respondents'
13, 2016, the governor signed into law Missouri Senate Bill
No. 590 (SB 590), 98th General Assembly, which states, in
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 ...