United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. Wright Allen, United States District Judge.
By removing youth from the balance-by subjecting
a juvenile to the same life-without-parole sentence
applicable to cm adult-these laws prohibit a
sentencing authority from assessing whether the law's
harshest term of imprisonment proportionately punishes a
juvenile offender. That contravenes
Graham's (and also Roper's) foundational
principle: that imposition of a State's most severe
penalties on juvenile offenders cannot proceed as though they
were not children.
See Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 2466 (2012)
the Court is a Petition from Xavier Jam ma 1 Pinckney
('"Petitioner" or "Mr. Pinckney") for
a Writ of Habeas Corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2254 (ECF No. 1), and a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 13)
advanced by Respondent Harold W. Clarke
("Respondent" or "Mr. Clarke"). Mr.
Pinckney argues that his sentence of four consecutive terms
of life imprisonment without parole for the homicide offenses
he committed as a juvenile is contrary to, and an
unreasonable application of, federal law as established by
the United States Supreme Court's holdings in Miller
v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012) and Montgomery v.
Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). For the following
reasons, Mr. Pinckney's Petition (ECF No. 1) and
Respondent's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 13) are DENIED IN
PART and GRANTED IN PART.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
October 2009, Mr. Pinckney was convicted by a Virginia state
court of four counts of capital murder, one count of robbery,
two counts of using or displaying a firearm in the commission
of a murder, and one count of using or displaying a firearm
in the commission of a robbery. Mr. Pinckney was seventeen
years old when he committed these offenses. On February 19,
2010, Mr. Pinckney was sentenced to four consecutive terms of
life imprisonment without parole for the capital murder
offenses, plus eighteen years of incarceration for the other
four counts. Because these offenses were committed in 2008,
he is ineligible for parole. Va. Code Ann. § 53.1-165.1
(2014) ("Any person sentenced to a term of incarceration
for a felony offense committed on or after January 1, 1995,
shall not be eligible for parole upon that offense.").
Pinckney appealed to the Court of Appeals for Virginia, which
affirmed the trial court's denial of his motion to
suppress statements Mr. Pinckney had made to the police.
Pinckney v. Commonwealth, No. 0902-10-4 (Va. Ct.
App. Feb. 28, 2012). On June 21, 2012, the Supreme Court of
Virginia refused Mr. Pinckney's petition for appeal. That
court later denied his petition for rehearing on September
September 24, 2013, Mr. Pinckney filed a petition for habeas
corpus in Virginia state court. Mr. Pinckney claimed that he
should be re-sentenced on his capital murder convictions
following the United States Supreme Court's decision in
Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012) (holding
that mandatory life imprisonment without parole for those who
were under the age of eighteen at the time of their crimes
violates the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment
established by the Eighth Amendment to the United States
state court considered and rejected Mr. Pinckney's habeas
petition. In so ruling, the court noted that Mr.
Pinckney's underlying conviction became final on
September 25, 2012, the date that the Supreme Court of
Virginia refused his petition for a rehearing.
Miller was decided three months earlier, and the
court concluded that the potential application of
Miller to Mr. Pinckney's case did not present an
issue of retroactivity. The court also concluded that
Miller did not provide relief because Virginia's
statutory sentencing scheme did not mandate life in prison
for juveniles convicted of capital murder. The state court
reasoned that the trial court's imposition of multiple
life sentences did not run afoul of Miller because
the trial court considered "Pinckney's age, the
circumstances of the crime, his criminal history, ... his
mitigating evidence, " and the presentence report. ECF
No. 2 at 5-6.
March 24, 2015, the Supreme Court of Virginia refused Mr.
Pinckney's petition for appeal. Pinckney v.
Mathena, Record No. 140995 (Mar. 24, 2015). Following
his state habeas proceedings, Mr. Pinckney timely filed the
instant § 2254 petition before this Court. Mr. Pinckney
renews the claim presented in his state habeas petition,
asserting that he should be resentenced pursuant to the
Supreme Court's ruling in Miller. Mr. Pinckney
argues that his sentences of mandatory life imprisonment
without parole for capital murders committed when he was a
juvenile were imposed without the trial court considering
factors pertinent to his youth, and therefore constituted
cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth
Pinckney's § 2254 petition was referred to a United
States Magistrate Judge for disposition. In a Report and
Recommendation (ECF No. 18), the Magistrate Judge recommended
granting Respondent's Motion to Dismiss, denying the
Petition, and dismissing it with prejudice.
reviewing a Report and Recommendation, this Court "may
accept, reject, or modify, in whole or part, the findings or
recommendations" made by the Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1) (2009); accord Fed. R. Civ. P.
72(b)(3). If a party makes timely written objections to a
Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendations, this
Court must review de novo "those portions of
the report... to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3).
parties were advised of their right to file written
objections to the Report and Recommendation. The Court
received objections from Mr. Pinckney (ECF No. 19) and a
Response to the Objections (ECF No. 20) from Respondent.
After the objections were filed, the United States Supreme
Court issued its decision in Montgomery v.
Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). This Court ordered
supplemental briefing to address the impact, if any, of
Montgomery on Mr. Pinckney's case. All briefing, the
recommendations of the Magistrate Judge, and the record of
this case have been considered carefully.
Motion to Dismiss
proceedings under § 2254, the familiar standards in Rule
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply to the
government's motion to dismiss." Walker v.
Kelly, 589 F.3d 127, 138 (4th Cir. 2009); see also
Brooks v. Clarke, No. 3:15-CV-13, 2015 WL 1737993, at *3
(E.D. Va. Apr. 16, 2015) (applying the Rule 12(b)(6) standard
to a motion to dismiss a habeas petition). "Thus, a
motion to dismiss a § 2254 petition under Rule 12(b)(6)
tests the legal sufficiency of the petition, requiring the
federal habeas court to assume all facts pleaded by the
§ 2254 petitioner to be true." Walker, 589
F.3d at 139 (internal citation omitted).
assessing whether the § 2254 petition states a claim for
relief, the district court must consider the face of the
petition and any attached exhibits." Id.
(internal citation omitted). A court may consider material
from the record of the state habeas proceeding, including
affidavits and evidence presented at trial, "without
having to convert the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to one for summary
judgment under Rule 56(b)." Id. "Moreover,
a federal court may consider matters of public record such as
documents from prior state court proceedings in conjunction
with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." Id.
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual information "to state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face." Brooks,
2015 WL 1737993, at *4 (quoting Bell Atlantic v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Determining
whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is]
... a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court
to draw on its judicial experience and common sense."
Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 663-64 (2009)). In evaluating a Motion to Dismiss, the
Court must determine whether the petitioner "came
forward with sufficient evidence to survive the
Commonwealth's dispositive motion [to dismiss] and
advance his claim for a merits determination."
Walker, 589 F.3d at 139.
Petition for Habeas Relief
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
("AEDPA") governs this Court's consideration of
a state prisoner's petition for writ of habeas corpus.
Richardson v. Branker, 668 F.3d 128, 138 (4th Cir.
2012). This Court's decision is also guided by Supreme
Court precedent-Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455
(2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718
(2016)-concerning the constitutionality of life imprisonment
without parole for juvenile homicide offenders.
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty
AEDPA standard mandates that a writ of habeas corpus
"shall not be granted" for any claim that was
adjudicated on the merits in a state court proceeding unless
the state court's adjudication was: (1) "contrary
to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly
established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court
of the United States;" or (2) "based on an
unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the
evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28
U.S.C. § 2254(d) (2015). "A state-court decision is
contrary to [the Supreme Court's] clearly established
precedents if it applies a rule that contradicts the
governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases,
or if it confronts a set of facts that is materially
indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme Court] but
reaches a different result." Brown v. Payton,
544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005).
the fundamental notions of state sovereignty, the "AEDPA
restricts [the] intrusion of state sovereignty by limiting
the federal courts' power to issue a writ to exceptional
circumstances, thereby helping to ensure that state
proceedings are the central process, not just a preliminary
step for a later federal habeas proceeding."
Richardson, 668 F.3d at 138 (internal citation
omitted). This Court is "mindful that 'state courts
are the principal forum for asserting constitutional
challenges to state convictions, ' that habeas corpus
proceedings are a 'guard against extreme malfunctions in
the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for
ordinary error correction through appeal, ' and that a
federal court may only issue the writ if 'there is no
possibility fairminded jurists could ...