Williams v. State

Decision Date04 April 2014
Docket NumberCR–12–1862.
Citation183 So.3d 198
Parties Jimmy WILLIAMS, Jr. v. STATE of Alabama.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Charlotte Morrison and Bethany J. Young, Montgomery, for appellant.

Luther Strange, atty. gen., and Lauren A. Simpson, asst. atty. gen., for appellee.

JOINER, Judge.

Jimmy Williams, Jr., who was convicted in the Montgomery Circuit Court of capital murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, filed a petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Rule 32, Ala. R.Crim. P., challenging his sentence; specifically, Williams—who was 15 years old at the time of his offense—argued that his sentence is unconstitutional in light of the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 2475, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012). We affirm the circuit court's summary dismissal of Williams's Rule 32 petition.

Facts and Procedural History

Jimmy Williams, Jr., was convicted of capital murder, see § 13A–5–40(a)(2), Ala.Code 1975, and of conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery, see § 13A–4–3, Ala.Code 1975. Williams, who was 15 years of age at the time of the offense, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the capital-murder conviction and was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for the conspiracy-to-commit-robbery conviction.

This Court affirmed Williams's convictions and sentences on direct appeal. See Williams v. State, 830 So.2d 45 (Ala.Crim.App.2001). Williams sought certiorari review in the Alabama Supreme Court; that Court, however, ultimately quashed the writ of certiorari it had issued, and issued a certificate of judgment in April 2002.

In June 2013, Williams filed in the circuit court a petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Rule 32, Ala. R.Crim. P., his first such petition. In his petition, Williams sought "relief from his unconstitutional sentence of life without parole." Specifically, Williams argued that, pursuant to Miller v. Alabama, his life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence was unconstitutional, and Williams asked the circuit court, pursuant to Rule 32.1(a), (b), and (c), for a ruling invalidating his sentence. (C. 5.)

In response, the State asserted that Williams's petition was due to be dismissed. The State asserted that "Miller is not retroactive to cases on collateral appeal," that Williams's petition fell outside the scope of Rule 32.1, that Williams's petition was without merit, and that Williams's claims were precluded pursuant to Rule 32.2(a)(3) and (a)(5), Ala. R.Crim. P., as claims that could have been, but were not, raised at trial or on direct appeal. (C. 17.) In response, Williams asserted that Miller was, in fact, retroactive. The circuit court agreed with the State and entered an order, drafted by the State, dismissing Williams's petition. (C. 59–62.)

Standard of Review

The facts in this case are not in dispute, and the question before this Court—whether the rule announced in Miller is retroactive—is a purely legal one; accordingly, our standard of review is de novo. Acra v. State, 105 So.3d 460, 464 (Ala.Crim.App.2012).

In Miller, the United States Supreme Court held that "the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders," ––– U.S. at ––––, 132 S.Ct. at 2469, and that the Eighth Amendment "mandates ... that a sentencer follow a certain process—considering an offender's youth and attendant characteristics—before imposing a particular penalty." ––– U.S. at ––––, 132 S.Ct. at 2471.

Analysis

In addressing Williams's appeal, we first ask whether Williams's Miller claim may be raised under Rule 32.1, Ala. R.Crim. P. If it is, we then address whether Williams is entitled to relief on his claim that Miller is retroactive.1

I. Retroactive Application of Miller
A. Grounds for Relief

"Rule 32 provides a limited scope of review," and a petitioner is limited by the grounds identified in Rule 32.1. Acra, 105 So.3d at 464. In his petition, Williams asserted that he was entitled to relief under Rule 32.1(a), (b), and (c), Ala. R.Crim. P.

Regarding Rule 32.1(b) and (c) —that Williams's sentence is illegal and that the circuit court did not have jurisdiction to sentence him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole—we do not find that these subsections apply. First, as the language of Miller makes clear, a life-imprisonment-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence for a juvenile offender is not patently illegal. Miller, ––– U.S. at ––––, 132 S.Ct. at 2469 (noting that life-without-parole sentences are not foreclosed by Miller ); see also Mosley v. State, 986 So.2d 476, 477 (Ala.Crim.App.2007) ("A sentence that exceeds the maximum allowed by law is an illegal sentence affecting the trial court's jurisdiction."). Second, even if Miller foreclosed such a sentence, nothing in that decision implicates the jurisdiction of the circuit court to sentence Williams. See generally Ex parte Seymour, 946 So.2d 536 (Ala.2006).

Nevertheless, Williams's claim—that he is constitutionally entitled to a new sentencing proceeding under Miller —is a claim that may be raised under Rule 32.1(a), Ala. R.Crim. P. Specifically, it is a claim alleging that "[t]he constitution of the United States.... requires ... a new sentencing proceeding." Rule 32.1(a), Ala. R.Crim. P. Accordingly, Williams has asserted a claim that seeks appropriate relief under Rule 32.1(a), Ala. R.Crim. P.

B. Application of Miller to Williams

We must next determine whether Williams is entitled to relief on his Miller claim; this question turns on the retroactivity of the Miller decision.

Retroactivity

"In Teague [v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989) ], and subsequent cases, [the United States Supreme Court] ... laid out the framework to be used in determining whether a rule announced in one of [its] opinions should be applied retroactively to judgments in criminal cases that are already final on direct review." Whorton v. Bockting, 549 U.S. 406, 416, 127 S.Ct. 1173, 167 L.Ed.2d 1 (2007).2

"Using this framework, we first ask whether the rule announced in an opinion is a new rule or whether it is an old rule. [A]n old rule applies both on direct and collateral review, but a new rule is generally applicable only to cases that are still on direct review.’ Id. (emphasis added). A new rule, however, may apply to cases on collateral review if ‘the rule[ ] come[s] within ... the ... exceptions to the general principle that new rules will not be applied on collateral review.’ Saffle v. Parks, 494 U.S. 484, 494, 110 S.Ct. 1257, 108 L.Ed.2d 415 (1990)."

Acra v. State, 105 So.3d 460, 466 (Ala.Crim.App.2012).

"In this case, it is undisputed that [Williams's] conviction became final on direct appeal well before [Miller ] was decided. We therefore turn to the question of whether [Miller ] applied an old rule or announced a new one." Whorton, 549 U.S. at 416. "[A]n old rule applies both on direct and collateral review" and, thus, is retroactive. Whorton, 549 U.S. at 416. "A new rule applies only to cases that still are on direct review, unless one of two exceptions applies." Chaidez v. United States, 655 F.3d 684, 689 (7th Cir.2011).

If the Miller rule is a new rule, this Court must then determine whether "the rule[ ] come[s] within ... the ... exceptions to the general principle that new rules will not be applied on collateral review." Saffle v. Parks, 494 U.S. 484, 494, 110 S.Ct. 1257, 108 L.Ed.2d 415 (1990). "If the holding in [Miller ] applies retroactively to cases on collateral review, [Williams] is not excluded from relief by the grounds of preclusion set out in Rule 32.2, Ala. R.Crim. P." Acra, 105 So.3d at 465. Finally—although not part of the Teague analysiswe address Williams's argument that the rule announced in Miller is retroactive because that rule was applied to a petitioner's claim in postconviction proceedings in Jackson v. Hobbs, the companion case decided in the same opinion as Miller.

a. Old Rule or New Rule

"[A] new rule [i]s a rule that ‘breaks new ground,’ ‘imposes a new obligation on the States or the Federal Government,’ or was not ‘dictated by precedent existing at the time the defendant's conviction became final.’ " Saffle, 494 U.S. at 488. "[A] rule is old if a court considering the defendant's claim at the time his conviction became final would have felt compelled by existing precedent to conclude that the rule he seeks was required by the Constitution.’ " United States v. Chang Hong, 671 F.3d 1147, 1153 (10th Cir.2011) (quoting O'Dell v. Netherland, 521 U.S. 151, 156, 117 S.Ct. 1969, 138 L.Ed.2d 351 (1997) ).

"It seems evident from Supreme Court precedent that [a case] cannot be an old rule simply because existing case law ‘inform[ed], or even control[led] or govern[ed],’ the analysis. Saffle, 494 U.S. at 488, 110 S.Ct. 1257. Nor will the rule of [a case] be deemed old because precedent lent ‘general support’ to the rule it established, Sawyer[ v. Smith], 497 U.S. [227] at 236, 110 S.Ct. 2822 [ (1990) ], or because it represents ‘the most reasonable ... interpretation of general law,’ Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 538, 117 S.Ct. 1517, 137 L.Ed.2d 771 (1997). [A case] can only be considered an old rule if Supreme Court precedent ‘compel[led] the result. Saffle, 494 U.S. at 490, 110 S.Ct. 1257."

Chaidez, 655 F.3d at 689–90. The "task [of discerning a new rule from an old one] is a ‘difficult’ one where, as here, the decision at issue ‘extends the reasoning of ... prior cases,’ as opposed to ‘explicit[ly] overruling ... an earlier holding.’ " Chaidez, 655 F.3d at 689 (quoting Saffle, 494 U.S. at 488.

As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has noted, the Miller decision was based on "two ‘strands of precedent.’ " Commonwealth v. Cunningham, 622 Pa. 543, 81 A.3d 1, 3 (2013) (quoting Miller, ––– U.S. at ––––, 132 S.Ct. at 2463 ). "The first of these involves the categorical prohibition of certain punishments for...

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