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Pinckney v. Clarke

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

September 23, 2016

XAVIER JAMMAL PINCKNEY, Petitioner,
v.
HAROLD W. CLARKE, Director of he Virginia Department of Corrections, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Arenda 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) (emphasis added).

         OVERVIEW

         Before 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.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In 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.").

         Mr. 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 25, 2012.

         On 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 Constitution).

         The 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.[1] 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.

         On 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 Amendment.

         Mr. 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.

         In 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).

         The 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.

         STANDARDS OF LAW

         I. Motion to Dismiss

         "In 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).

         "In 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.

         To 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.

         II. Petition for Habeas Relief

         The 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.

         A. Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act

         The 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).

         Under 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 ...


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