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Aiken v. Byars

Supreme Court of South Carolina

November 12, 2014

Tyrone Aiken, Matthew Clark, Eric Graham, Bradford M. Haigler, Angelo Ham, J'Corey S. Hull-Kilgore, Damian Inman, Rogert Legette, Terriel Mack, Jennifer L. McSharry, Wallace Priester, Davon Reed, Dondre M. Scott, Edgar L. Thomas, James Van, et al., Petitioners,
William R. Byars, Jr., Director, South Carolina Department of Corrections, and Alan Wilson, Attorney General of South Carolina, Respondents

Heard January 8, 2014.

Petition for certiorari filed at, 02/09/2015

Appellate Case No. 2012-213286.

John H. Blume, Sheri L. Johnson, Keir M. Weyble, of Cornell Law School, of Ithica, NY; Elizabeth Franklin-Best, of Blume, Norris, & Franklin-Best, LLC, of Columbia; Joshua A. Bailey, of Finklea Law Firm, of Florence; Charles Grose, Jr., of Grose Law Firm, of Greenwood; Diana L. Holt, of Diana Holt, LLC, of Columbia; and Chief Appellate Defender Robert M. Dudek, of Columbia, all for Petitioners.

Attorney General Alan M. Wilson, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, and Assistant Attorney General J. Benjamin Aplin, all of Columbia, for Respondents.

Christopher D. Scalzo, of Greenville, for Amicus Curiae, S.C. Public Defender Association.

Joseph M. McCulloch, Jr., of Law Offices of Joseph M. McCulloch, Jr., of Columbia, and Abby F. Rudzin and Abby C. Johnston, both of O'Melveny & Myers, LLP, of New York, NY, for Amicus Curiae, The South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP.

John S. Nichols, of Bluestein Nichols Thompson & Delgado, LLC, of Columbia, for Amicus Curiae, South Carolina Psychological Association.

JUSTICE HEARN. BEATTY, J., concurs. PLEICONES, J., concurring in a separate opinion. TOAL, C.J., dissenting in a separate opinion in which KITTREDGE, J., concurs.

Page 573



In this case brought in our original jurisdiction, fifteen inmates who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles petition this Court for resentencing in light of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama, [410 S.C. 537] 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012).[1] We hold their sentences violate the Eighth Amendment under Miller and the petitioners and those similarly situated are entitled to resentencing.


The petitioners were all convicted for homicides committed while they were juveniles. Some pled guilty and others were convicted after a jury trial. Some were found directly responsible for the relevant homicide while others were convicted under a theory of accomplice liability. All were sentenced to life without parole according to existing sentencing procedures, which made no distinction between defendants whose crimes were committed as an adult and those whose crimes were committed as a juvenile. In most of the sentencing hearings--but not all--defense counsel mentioned the age of the defendant at the time of the crime, and in some cases, there was a brief discussion of the defendant's life prior to commission of

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the crime. Of the fifteen petitioners, thirteen of their cases have become final.[2]

The petitioners filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in our original jurisdiction, naming the Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, William R. Byars, Jr., and Attorney General Alan Wilson as the respondents. We granted certiorari to address the effect of Miller on the petitioners and others similarly situated who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.


I. Does Miller apply retroactively?

[410 S.C. 538] II. Does Miller apply to juveniles who received a nonmandatory sentence of life without parole?


The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, " Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." U.S. Const. amend. VIII.[3] Although the earliest Eighth Amendment cases focused on the barbarous nature of a punishment, the jurisprudence evolved to encompass challenges to the proportionality of the sentence to the offense. Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 170-72, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976). When considering whether a sentence is proportional, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the scope of the Eighth Amendment is not static, but " must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101, 78 S.Ct. 590, 2 L.Ed.2d 630 (1958) (plurality opinion).

In Miller, the United States Supreme Court confronted a challenge to the mandatory imposition of life without parole sentences on juveniles as violative of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments. 132 S.Ct. at 2461. In considering this question, the Supreme Court analyzed two strands of precedent impacting the proportionality compelled by the Eighth Amendment. The first line of cases dealt with categorical bans on certain sentences based on the inability to reconcile the class of offenders and the severity of the penalty. In Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 125 S.Ct. 1183, 161 L.Ed.2d 1 (2005), the Supreme Court invalidated the death penalty for all juvenile offenders. Thereafter, in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed.2d 825 (2010), the Court held that life without parole violates the Eighth Amendment when imposed on juvenile nonhomicide offenders. The Miller Court noted that Graham equated life without parole sentences for juveniles to the death penalty, invoking a second line of cases that require sentencing authorities to consider the individual characteristics of a defendant [410 S.C. 539] and the details of his offense prior to imposing a sentence of death. 132 S.Ct. at 2463-64; see also Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 604, 98 S.Ct. 2954, 57 L.Ed.2d 973 (1978) (plurality opinion) (holding that " in all but the rarest kind of capital case" the sentencer must " not be precluded from considering as a mitigating factor, any aspect of a defendant's character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death" ); Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 304, 96 S.Ct. 2978, 49 L.Ed.2d 944 (1976) (requiring " consideration of the character and record of the individual offender and the circumstances of the particular offense as a constitutionally indispensable part of the process of inflicting the penalty of death" ). The Court therefore held that " the confluence of these two lines of precedent leads to the conclusion that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment." 132 S.Ct. at 2464. A sentencer must be allowed to consider that " youth is more than a chronological fact," and carries with it " immaturity,

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irresponsibility, impetuousness[,] and recklessness," factors as transient as youth itself. Id. at 2467 (alteration in original). Although a court may still sentence a juvenile to life without parole after an individualized hearing, the Court cautioned that given " children's diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change" the " appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon." Id. at 2469.


Before considering whether Miller applies to juveniles who received a sentence of life without parole under a nonmandatory scheme, we first must resolve the threshold issue of whether Miller applies retroactively.

Under our current jurisprudence, the United States Supreme Court's decision in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 109 S.Ct. 1060, 103 L.Ed.2d 334 (1989), governs whether a new rule of criminal procedure is retroactive.[4] Talley v. State, 371 S.C. 535, [410 S.C. 540] 640 S.E.2d 878 (2007). In Teague, the Supreme Court held that a new constitutional rule of criminal procedure should not apply to cases that became final before the new rule is announced. 489 U.S. at 310. However, this general prohibition against the retroactive application of new constitutional rules is subject to two exceptions.[5] First, a new rule may be applied retroactively if the rule is substantive. Id. at 311. Second, a new rule may be applied retroactively if it is a " watershed rule" of criminal procedure. Id. We need not consider whether Miller 's holding constitutes a watershed rule because we find it is substantive and thus meets Teague 's first exception.

A rule is substantive if it prohibits the States from criminalizing certain conduct or prohibits " a certain category of punishment for a class of defendants because of their status or offense." Saffle v. Parks, 494 U.S. 484, 494, 110 S.Ct. 1257, 108 L.Ed.2d 415 (1990) (quoting Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302, 330, 109 S.Ct. 2934, 106 L.Ed.2d 256 (1989), abrogated by Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 321, 122 S.Ct. 2242, 153 L.Ed.2d 335 (2002)). New substantive rules apply retroactively on collateral review because they " necessarily carry a significant risk that a defendant stands convicted of an act that the law does not make criminal or faces a punishment that the law cannot impose upon him." Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U.S. 348, 352, 124 S.Ct. 2519, ...

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