RAY HOBBS, DIRECTOR, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OFCORRECTION, APPELLANT
AARON HODGE, APPELLEE
APPEAL FROM THE LEE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. 39CV-13-82. HONORABLE L.T. SIMES II, JUDGE.
Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Valerie Glover Fortner, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellant.
D'Lorah L. Hughes; and Jeff Rosenzweig, for appellee.
JOSEPHINE LINKER HART, Associate Justice. WOOD and WYNNE, JJ., dissent. RHONDA K. WOOD, Justice, dissenting.
JOSEPHINE LINKER HART, Associate Justice
Ray Hobbs, the Director of the Arkansas Department of Correction (the State), appeals from an order granting habeas-corpus relief to Aaron Hodge. Hodge was convicted of capital murder for the shooting deaths of his mother, Barbara Flick, his stepfather, David Flick, and his half-sister, Andria Flick, in their home at Rector. Hodge was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Hodge v. State, 332 Ark. 377, 382, 965 S.W.2d 766, 768
(1998). Hodge later sought habeas-corpus relief, and following a hearing at which no evidence was presented, the court granted relief to Hodge, concluding that he was entitled to relief under Miller v. Alabama, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012). The State argues that the circuit court erred in granting him relief because Miller is inapplicable. Further, the State argues that the court erred in granting Hodge relief without making a finding of probable cause and following the procedures outlined in our habeas-corpus statutes. After considering the latter point, we reverse and remand the circuit court's decision without addressing the applicability of Miller.
In his habeas-corpus petition, Hodge cited Miller v. Alabama, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), where the United States Supreme Court held that a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole for those under the age of eighteen at the time the juvenile committed a homicide crime violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. Hodge attached to his petition a certified copy of an amended judgment and commitment order reflecting that Hodge's date of birth is April 19, 1978, and that the offense date for the capital murder was October 8, 1995, making him, according to the order, seventeen years old at the time he committed the homicides. Hodge argued that Miller should be retroactively applied to his case.
Citing Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-112-103(a)(1) (Repl. 2006), the State asserted that it was not required to file a " return," unless the circuit court first found that the petition showed " by affidavit or other evidence, probable cause to believe he or she is detained without lawful authority." The State presented what it described as a " memorandum of authorities to assist the Court in that determination." The State argued that Hodge's claim was not cognizable under Arkansas's habeas-corpus statutes and that, even if his claim was cognizable, he was not entitled to relief because Miller did not apply retroactively.
The circuit court entered an order directing the sheriff of Lee County to take custody of Hodge from the Department of Correction and bring Hodge to the hearing. The court's order further stated that, " [a]lternatively, should the Department so prefer, it may itself undertake to transport Inmate Hodge to and from the hearing." A hearing was held at which the court jointly considered a petition filed by James Grubbs, who was also represented by Hodge's counsel. Hodge's counsel presented argument to the court on behalf of Hodge and Grubbs, but no evidence was submitted to the circuit court. The court asked the attorneys for the State whether there was a dispute regarding whether either Hodge or Grubbs was under the age of eighteen at the time of the offense, and the State replied, " [I]f we ultimately say it was acceptable in a probable-cause hearing, we would want to have a certified vital record proving their age. But, ultimately, we do believe that they were underage at the time."
The court requested posthearing briefs and proposed orders from both parties. In a response to both Hodge's and Grubbs's petition, the State again cited Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-112-103(a)(1), and stated that " it must be emphasized that the only question presently before the Court is whether petitioners' applications for the writ sufficiently demonstrate probable cause to believe they are confined in the penitentiary without lawful
authority." The State argued in its brief that because their Miller claims were not cognizable and because Miller is not retroactively applicable, Hodge and Grubbs had not demonstrated probable cause to issue the ...