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Stewart v. Bowersox

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

May 20, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on the petition of Missouri state prisoner Curtis Stewart, who is represented by counsel, for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, the matter will be stayed to allow Petitioner to exhaust all available state court remedies.


         The record establishes that, on October 25, 1991, Petitioner was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole for murder in the first degree. He was also sentenced to a 50-year term for each of two counts of armed criminal action, and a 15-year term for assault, all to run consecutively. Petitioner was a juvenile at the time he committed the offenses.

         On or about May 11, 1992, Petitioner filed his pro se state motion for post-conviction relief under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15, which was denied after an evidentiary hearing. On August 3, 1993, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the denial.

         On June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), holding that the Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders. The Supreme 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.

         On February 18, 2014, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 91 (“Rule 91 petition”) based on the Miller decision. He also asserted a claim of actual innocence based on the affidavits of two eyewitnesses to the crime for which he was convicted.

         On January 25, 2016, while Petitioner's Rule 91 petition was pending, the United States Supreme Court held that Miller announced a new substantive constitutional rule that applied retroactively to cases on collateral review. Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718, 736 (2016). The Supreme Court clarified 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 resentencing them.” Id. As to this remedy, the Supreme 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 Supreme 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 that applied to Petitioner's case and other similarly situated cases (“March 15 order”). The March 15 order stated that the Missouri General Assembly had yet to enact a constitutionally valid sentencing provision in accordance with Miller and Montgomery. Thus, the Missouri Supreme Court held that Petitioner 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. The March 15 order also denied without prejudice “all other claims alleged in the petition and pending motion.”

         Following this ruling, Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration or for resentencing. Then, on July 19, 2016, the Missouri Supreme Court entered an order (“July 19 order”) vacating its March 15 order, overruling as moot the motions for reconsideration or resentencing filed by Petitioner and others, and denying Petitioner's and others' state court petitions for habeas corpus, all in light of the enactment of Missouri Senate Bill No. 590 (“S.B. 590”). S.B. 590, signed into law on July 13, 2016, and codified at Mo. Rev. Stat. § 558.047, 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.
5. In a parole review hearing under this section, the board shall consider, in addition to the factors listed in section 565.033:
(1) Efforts made toward rehabilitation since the offense or offenses occurred, including participation in educational, vocational, or other programs ...

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