Seventh Circuit declines to decide retroactivity of Miller v. Alabama where juvenile did not receive mandatory life sentence (Croft v. Williams, No. 14-3419 (7th Cir.))

Croft v. Williams, No. 14-3419 (7th Cir.). Decided November 25, 2014. The appellant-defendant, Curtis Croft, petitioned the Court to authorize him to pursue a successive petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, arguing that his life sentence for murder was unconstitutional under Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2445 (2012) because he was 17 years old when he committed the crime.

The filing requirements for successive habeas petitions are located at 28 U.S.C. § 2244. Section (a) provides that “No circuit or district judge shall be required to entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus to inquire into the detention of a person pursuant to a judgment of a court of the United States if it appears that the legality of such detention has been determined by a judge or court of the United States on a prior application for a writ of habeas corpus, except as provided in section 2255.” Furthermore, section (b)(1) provides that “A claim presented in a second or successive habeas corpus application under section 2254 that was presented in a prior application shall be dismissed.” However, section (b)(2) provides that “A claim presented in a second or successive habeas corpus application under section 2254 that was not presented in a prior application shall be dismissed unless—(A) the applicant shows that the claim relies on a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable…” Accordingly, Croft argued that he should be granted leave to file a successive habeas petition under § 2254 because he was arguing that Miller was retroactive, in satisfaction of the 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(2)(A) exception.

The Court noted that the question of whether Miller was retroactive was currently up in the air and the subject of a deepening circuit split. The Court noted that Miller had been deemed to be retroactive by the Illinois Supreme Court, but ultimately the Court never determined whether Miller was retroactive in the 7th Circuit: “The reason is simple: Miller is inapplicable to Croft’s case. As the Appellate Court of Illinois noted in affirming the second-stage dismissal of Croft’s petition for post-conviction relief, life sentences for murder are discretionary under Illinois law. This is a critical difference from the situation presented in Miller, which considered only “mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.” Croft, at 3, citing Miller, 132 S. Ct. at 2464.” For this reason, “…even if this court were to hold that Miller applies retroactively on collateral review, Croft would be unable to take advantage of it.” Croft at 4.

The Court therefore denied Croft permission to file a successive collateral petition under § 2254.

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