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Jones v. Missouri Department of Corrections

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

September 17, 2019

TONY D. JONES, Appellant,

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri The Honorable Daniel R. Green, Judge

          Before: Karen King Mitchell, Chief Judge, Presiding, Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judge, and W. Ann Hansbrough, Special Judge




         Tony D. Jones appeals the denial of his petition for declaratory relief against Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) wherein he argued that the plain language of Section 558.047, RSMo 2016, grants him eligibility for parole after serving twenty-five years of his sentence of life without parole, notwithstanding the fact he received consecutive sentences for two armed criminal convictions that normally require three-year mandatory minimum sentences. On appeal, Jones argues the circuit court misinterpreted Section 558.047, failing to recognize that Section 558.047 supersedes all other conflicting general parole and sentencing laws and guidelines in cases where a juvenile received an unconstitutional sentence of life without parole. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The underlying facts are not in dispute. Jones was charged in the Circuit Court of Saint Louis County with one count of first degree murder in violation of Section 565.020, RSMo 1986, one count of first degree robbery in violation of Section 569.020, RSMo 1986, and two counts of armed criminal action in violation of Section 571.015, RSMo 1986. Jones's charges stemmed from a robbery and subsequent murder which occurred when Jones was fifteen years old.

         On July 25, 1994, Jones was found guilty as charged after a jury trial. On September 2, 1994, Jones was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the first degree murder charge, and life imprisonment for the associated armed criminal action charge. He was sentenced to a term of twenty-five years for the robbery charge, and fifteen years for the associated armed criminal action charge. All four sentences were to run consecutively. Jones's convictions and sentences were affirmed on consolidated appeal in a per curiam order accompanied by an unpublished memorandum. State v. Jones, 955 S.W.2d 818 (Mo. App. 1997).

         On June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court handed down Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), holding that "juveniles could not be sentenced to a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole in a homicide case without first considering whether this punishment was just and appropriate given the juvenile offender's age, development, and the circumstances of the offense." State ex rel. Carr v. Wallace, 527 S.W.3d 55, 58 (Mo. banc 2017). Our Missouri Supreme Court, in accordance with Miller, issued opinions in State v. Hart, 404 S.W.3d 232 (Mo. banc 2013), and State v. Nathan, 404 S.W.3d 253 (Mo. banc 2013), holding that a juvenile on direct appeal who had been sentenced to mandatory life without parole must be resentenced.

         Jones filed a habeas corpus petition in 2013 under Rule 91 in the Missouri Supreme Court raising the claim that his mandatory sentence of life without parole violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution under Miller and required that he receive a new sentencing hearing. Jones v. Bowersox, SC93095. This claim required Miller be given retroactive effect. Jones's petition had not been ruled on when, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718, 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016), "the [United States] Supreme Court held that Miller's substantive rule must be applied retroactively on collateral review of a juvenile offender's mandatory sentence of life without parole." Carr, 527 S.W.3d at 59. Montgomery further held:

Giving Miller retroactive effect, moreover, 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. 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.

136 S.Ct. at 736.

         On March 15, 2016, following Montgomery, our Missouri Supreme Court issued an order in appellant's case, and other pending cases involving juveniles who had received sentences of life without parole for first degree murder, granting habeas relief in part. The Court found that a resentencing proceeding was not constitutionally required and that a proper remedy under Miller would be that Jones would "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."

         On May 13, 2016, the Missouri General Assembly passed S.B. 590, which was signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon on July 13, 2016, and effective immediately. The Missouri Supreme Court, thereafter, vacated its March 15, 2016, order and denied Jones's habeas petition. ...

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