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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Texas: Miller v. Alabama Applies Retroactively

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals this week held that Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), applies retroactively.  In Miller, the Supreme Court held mandatory life without the possibility of parole sentences are unconstitutional for offenders that committed their crime while under 18 years of age.  The Texas case is Ex Parte Maxwell, No. WR-76,964 (Tex. Crim. App., March 12, 2014).

A jury found Maxwell guilty of capital murder arising out of a 2007 murder/robbery.  The State did not seek the death penalty so under Texas law the sentence automatically became life without possibility of parole after the jury returned the guilty verdict.  Maxwell was 17 when the crime occurred.

Texas utilizes the frameword announced in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989) to determine whether or not a Supreme Court opinion should be applied retroactively to criminal convictions already final following direct appeal.  The Teague framework provides a new rule applies retroactively in a latter collateral proceeding only if the rule (1) is substantive or (2) is a "watershed" rule of criminal procedure.  This court noted the split in authority nationally on Miller's retroactivity, and the court further observed a split on the question between two Fifth Circuit panels -- Texas lies within the Fifth Circuit.  The majority examined the cases creating the split, acknowledged the Supreme Court must ultimately resolve the split, looked into its "crystal ball" and concluded that evenutally the Supreme Court would apply Miller retroactively.   

The court decided the case 5-4 and generated short two dissents (see here and here).  This Texas case joins the deepening split among the several states and federal circuits regarding Miller's retroactivity.  We can expect more appeals courts to weigh in on the question until the Supreme Court ultimately grants cert and resolves the matter once and for all.

Craig Estlinbaum

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adjunctprofs/2014/03/texas-miller-v-alabama-applies-retroactively.html

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Recent Developments | Permalink

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