Mathena, Warden v. Malvo

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: March 18, 2019
  • Case #: 18-217
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 893 F.3d 265 (4th Cir. 2018)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether the Fourth Circuit erred in concluding—in direct conflict with Virginia’s highest court and other courts—that a decision of this Court (Montgomery) addressing whether a new constitutional rule announced in an earlier decision (Miller) applies retroactively on collateral review may properly be interpreted as modifying and substantively expanding the very rule whose retroactivity was in question?

Respondent was convicted of two counts of capital murder for homicides committed when he was 17 years old. Respondent was sentenced to life without parole in 2004. In the opinion below, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that he must be resentenced in reliance of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016).  Miller held that a life without parole sentence violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments when the defendant was under 18 years old when they committed their crime.  Montgomery held that the Miller rule applied retroactively.  At issue is whether the retroactively applied rule includes only mandatory life without parole sentences (as Virginia’s highest could so-held) or whether it includes discretionary life without parole sentences as well (as the Fourth Circuit concluded).  Petitioner filed a habeas petition in district court asserting that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment in light of the recent Miller and Montgomery decisions.  Petitioner argues that the Court should grant review in light of the evident federalism issues that are presented in divergent opinions of the Virginia State Court and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Further, eight states and the First, Fifth, and Eighth Circuits take the view of the Virginia court, evincing a nationwide circuit split.

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