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Helms v. Walruth

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

February 1, 2018

JOHN WALRUTH, Respondent.


          Hon. Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge.

         Tommy Lawrence Helms, a state inmate proceeding pro se, filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the validity of his sentence on a judgment by the Henry County Circuit Court. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss Helms's § 2254 petition, and Helms responded, making the matter ripe for disposition. After review of the record, the court concludes that Helms's petition is time-barred, requiring the motion to dismiss to be granted.


         On May 31, 1996, the Henry County Circuit Court convicted Helms, pursuant to guilty pleas, of first-degree murder, five counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, two counts of robbery, one count of attempted robbery, and one count of malicious wounding.[1] There was no plea agreement. After consideration of a presentence report, the evidence, and arguments by the prosecution and defense counsel, the court sentenced Helms to a total aggregate sentence of life-without-parole[2] plus twenty-three years.[3]

         Helms appealed, including an allegation that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment because the trial court imposed a sentence above what was called for in Virginia's discretionary sentencing guidelines. The Court of Appeals of Virginia denied his petition, and then, on October 22, 1997, the Supreme Court of Virginia refused review. Helms never filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the state court.


         On January 24, 2017, Helms filed the current petition, alleging one claim: that his life-without-parole sentence violates the Eighth Amendment under the new rule announced in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016) and/or Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). He requests a new sentencing hearing.

         III. Miller and Montgomery

         In Miller, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the "Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders" because "children are constitutionally different[4] from adults for sentencing purposes" and mandatory sentencing schemes as applied to juveniles "pose too great a risk of disproportionate punishment." 567 U.S. at 471. The Court carefully pointed out, however, that the holding did not represent a "categorical bar on life without parole for juveniles, " only that mandatory schemes are unconstitutional because such schemes do not allow sentencing courts to "take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison." Id. at 480.

         In Montgomery, the Supreme Court clarified that Miller announced a substantive rule of constitutional law that is retroactively applicable on collateral review:

Even if a court considers a child's age before sentencing him or her to a lifetime in prison, that sentence still violates the Eighth Amendment for a child whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity. Because Miller determined that sentencing a child to life without parole is excessive for all but the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption, it rendered life without parole an unconstitutional penalty for a class of defendants because of their status-that is, juvenile offenders whose crimes reflect the transient immaturity of youth .... Like other substantive rules, Miller is retroactive because it necessarily carries a significant risk that a defendant-here, the vast majority of juvenile offenders-faces a punishment that the law cannot impose upon him.

136 S.Ct. at 734.

         IV. Statute of Limitations

         Under the applicable provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penally Act ("AEDPA"), a one-year period of limitation for federal habeas corpus runs from the latest of: "(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review, " or "(C) the date on which the constitutional right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if the right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review." 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A), (C).

         A. Commencement Of The Statute Of Limitations Under ...

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