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Rousan v. Sachse

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

August 19, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner William Brent Rousan's (“Rousan” or “Petitioner”) amended petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 24). Respondent filed a response to the Petition. (Doc. 36). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). (Doc. 5). For the reasons set forth below, Rousan's petition for writ of habeas corpus will be stayed to allow Petitioner to exhaust all available state court remedies.

         I. Background

         Rousan is currently an inmate at the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Jefferson City, Missouri. On March 4, 1996, Rousan was sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole on two counts of first degree murder, after pleading guilty in exchange for a waiver of the death penalty. Rousan was sixteen years old at the time he committed the offenses.

         Rousan filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 24.035, in which he alleged ineffective assistance of counsel and attempted to withdraw his guilty plea. (Doc. 24-1 at 3). That motion was denied without a hearing, and the motion court's ruling was affirmed on appeal. Id. Subsequently, Rousan filed a pro se direct appeal in 2005, seeking to withdraw his guilty plea, which was dismissed as untimely on February 6, 2006. Id. Rousan then filed a motion for a writ of habeas corpus in 2012, in the Circuit Court of Cole County, which was denied on April 23, 2012. Id.

         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 that the Eighth Amendment prohibits a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders. Id. at 479. 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.

         On March 12, 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 January 27, 2016, while Rousan's petition was still pending, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), holding that the rule of Miller must be retroactively applied in collateral cases to persons sentenced to mandatory life without parole for juvenile sentences before Miller was decided. Id. at 732. 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.” Id. Rather, “[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 incarceration. Id. (citing Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-10-301(c) (2013)). The Court specifically held that “allowing 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 Petitioner's habeas case, as well as 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 Rousan'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 action of the governor or enactment of the legislature.

         On July 13, 2016, the Governor signed into law Missouri Senate Bill No. 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. *****
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 Mo. Rev. Stat. § 558.047, 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 Rousan and others similarly situated, and denying the pending petitions for state habeas corpus.

         Because Rousan is serving two consecutive sentences of life without parole, he is not eligible to petition for parole until he has served twenty-five years on each sentence, a total of fifty years, at which time Rousan will be 69 years of age. (Doc. 36 at 2).

         On October 14, 2016, Rousan filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court, raising one ground for relief: that Mo. Rev. Stat. ยง 558.047 is unconstitutional as applied to him because he will not be eligible for parole until he is 69 years old, in violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. (Doc. 1). Subsequently, this Court appointed counsel to represent Rousan, after ...

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