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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Latest Rulings in Mississippi Following Miller v. Alabama

There have been a couple of cases on appeal in Mississippi that have been decided by the Court of Appeals recently. The cases of Terry Hye, Jr. and Lester Lavon Parker, Jr. both are directly related to the interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama by the courts here in Mississippi.

Hye had appealed his conviction on the grounds of jury instructions that weren't made or were inaccurate, insufficient evidence, refusing an accomplice instruction, the trial court's statement to the jury panel, the indictment, and cumulative error. When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Miller, Hye's attorney filed a supplement to the appeal to include that Hye was now serving an illegal sentence. A prime example of Mississippi justice is that Darwin Wells, the actual trigger man in this case, was convicted of deliberate-design murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Hye was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole.

On May 28, 2013 the Mississippi Court of Appeals confirmed Hye's conviction because they found no reversible errors, but they did away with his sentence in the light of the Miller ruling. So now he has to go back to his trial court in Jackson County where the judge is to consider his "chronological age and its hallmark features" at the time of the crime, "family home and environment," "circumstances of the homicide offense," and "the possibility of rehabilitation" before resentencing Hye. Justice Carlton disagreed with the majority opinion, arguing that Miller should only apply to future cases and not be applied to cases that were ruled on before Miller.
Parker's case deals with a murder charge instead of capital murder, so it is a bit different than Hye's case. Parker appealed on grounds of abuse of discretion, conviction against the overwhelming weight of evidence, and illegal sentence. Parker's conviction was affirmed, but his sentence was vacated as illegal and he will have to return to his trial court in Copiah County for resentencing. This is important because the Miller decision was specific in dealing with cases where a juvenile is sentenced mandatorily to life without the possibility of parole. The Court of Appeals justices determined that if Mississippi law is applied as it currently reads, Parker's sentence is tantamount to life without parole.

Technically someone sentenced to life imprisonment for homicide is eligible for conditional release at the age of 65 if they have served 15 years. However, this is closer to clemency, which the U.S. Supreme Court has held as a matter of law to be different from parole. Conditional release would not be determined by the sentencing authority, which would go against the Miller decision. The Court's opinion in Parker recognizes Miller and attempts to provide a "stopgap mechanism" to annul application of Section 47-7-3 (1)(h), should the trial court determine that the juvenile should be eligible for parole after Miller consideration. This is an unnecessary measure in my opinion. The State suggested that if it was determined that Miller applies, the juvenile "would be subject to the general provisions of the parole statute which permit parole eligibility after serving ten years." The Court remanded Parker's case for a hearing to determine whether he should be sentenced to "life imprisonment" or "life imprisonment with eligibility for parole notwithstanding the present provisions of Mississippi Code Section 47-7-3 (1)(h)."

Justice Kitchens agreed in part and disagreed in part with the majority ruling, but made a lot of sense in his seperate opinion. Justice Kitchens agrees that Parker's sentence was tantamount to life without parole and because he was 15 years old when the crime was committed, the mandatory sentence is "cruel and unusual" in light of Miller. Justice Kitchens disagreed that the Court was required to modify two statutory provisions so a juvenile convicted of murder will face the same sentencing options as a juvenile convicted of capital murder. The simplest remedy is to adopt the State's previously mentioned suggestion.

Retroactivity of Miller has only come up once and the Court of Appeals said that because Miller was decided after Parker's conviction, sentence, and notice of appeal, Parker's case was pending on direct review and Miller therefore applies. When the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision that results in a "new rule," that rule applies to all criminal cases still pending on direct review.

That is the update for now. As decisions are made, we will try to keep you notified and explain as best we can. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to leave them here on the blog. Any feedback is appreciated.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the update. I know in the beginning of the Parker opinion, the Court said they were not going to legislate, but then that is exactly what they did. The hearing to determine if a juvenile life case is eligible for lwop seems dumb and like a waste of precious time and resources. But...the determination of life cases being the same as lwop is a good result since more of the MS cases are life cases. Now there needs to be a decision on retroactivity.


About Steven

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Steven Farris is a prisoner who has been incarcerated since a month after his 16th birthday in 1998. Currently serving a life sentence without the possibility for parole, he is seeking to educate the public about the true nature of prison and the widespread and negative effects of the prison industrial complex. Steven has worked with both the National Prison Project of the ACLU, as well as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in furthering this effort.

You can contact him directly at:
Steven Farris #R5580
P.O. Box 1889
Woodville, MS 39669-1889

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