TYRELL A. BENSON APPELLANT
WENDY KELLEY, DIRECTOR, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION APPELLEE
FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 35CV-16-731]
HONORABLE JODI RAINES DENNIS, JUDGE.
A. Benson, pro se appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Karen Virginia Wallace,
Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.
K. WOOD, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE.
Tyrell Benson appeals the denial of his petition for writ of
habeas corpus. As a juvenile, Benson committed multiple
offenses resulting in multiple convictions and sentences. He
alleges that one of his sentences exceeds his life expectancy
without the opportunity for parole, resulting in a de facto
life sentence in violation of Graham v. Florida, 560
U.S. 48 (2010). We conclude that Benson is parole eligible;
therefore, we do not speculate as to whether his sentence
would violate Graham if he were not parole eligible.
However, because Benson's judgment-and-commitment orders
incorrectly state that he is ineligible for parole pursuant
to Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-93-609, we reverse the
denial of Benson's habeas petition, issue the writ, and
remand to the sentencing court to correct the orders.
was seventeen years old, Benson committed a series of
criminal offenses. In January 2003, a Pulaski County Circuit
Court jury convicted him of three counts of aggravated
robbery, which he committed in March 2002. The trial court
sentenced him to three consecutive ten-year sentences
(60CR-02-2345). In February 2003, a Pulaski County Circuit
Court jury convicted him of two counts of a terroristic act,
which he committed in March 2002. The circuit court sentenced
him to two, thirty-year sentences to run concurrently with
one another but consecutively to the thirty years he received
on the aggravated-robbery charges
(60CR-02-1695). Finally, in March 2003, Benson entered a
negotiated plea of guilty to rape and aggravated robbery,
which he committed in May 2002. He was sentenced to sixty
years on each count to run concurrently with each other and
with his previous sentences (60CR-02-1978). The February and
March 2003 sentencing-and-commitment orders state that Benson
is "not eligible for parole" pursuant to section
16-93-609, an enhancement statute.
November 2016, Benson filed a pro se petition for writ of
habeas corpus in the Jefferson County Circuit Court arguing
that his sentences are cruel and unusual and unconstitutional
under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, he
alleged that his sixty-year sentence comprises a de facto
life sentence, which the United States Supreme Court
prohibits under Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48
(2010). In Graham, the Supreme Court held that the
imposition of a life sentence without the benefit of parole
eligibility on juveniles who commit nonhomicide offenses is
unconstitutional. The circuit court denied Benson's
petition, finding that his sentence does not violate the
Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments under Graham.
Standard of Review
of habeas corpus is proper when a judgment of conviction is
invalid on its face or when a trial court lacks jurisdiction
over the cause. Philyaw v. Kelley, 2015 Ark. 465,
477 S.W.3d 503. Under our statute, a petitioner who does not
allege his or her actual innocence must plead either the
facial invalidity of the judgment or the lack of jurisdiction
by the trial court and make a showing by affidavit or other
evidence of probable cause to believe that the petitioner is
being illegally detained. Ark. Code Ann. §
16-112-103(a)(1) (Repl. 2016). Unless the petitioner can show
that the trial court lacked jurisdiction or that the judgment
is facially invalid, there is no basis for a finding that a
writ of habeas corpus should issue. Williams v.
Kelley, 2017 Ark. 200, at 3, 521 S.W.3d 104, 106.
appeal, Benson argues that his sixty-year sentence without
parole is unconstitutional because it exceeds his life
expectancy. Benson's argument is premised on the fact
that he must serve sixty-years' imprisonment and is
ineligible for release until he is seventy-seven years old.
He claims his life expectancy is seventy-three years.
Benson's sentencing-and-commitment orders in case numbers
60CR-02-1695 and 60CR-02-1978 provide that Benson is
ineligible for parole in accordance with Act 1805 of 2001,
codified as Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-93-609. The
State alleges that despite the notations on his sentencing
orders, section 16-93-609 does not apply to Benson and that
Benson is not serving a de facto life sentence because he is
eligible for parole at age fifty-five pursuant to section
5-4-501(d)(1) and (d)(1)(C). We agree with the State's
argument that section 16-93-609 is inapplicable to Benson.
However, because Benson's sentencing-and-commitment
orders provide that section 16-93-609 applies to Benson, we
conclude that the orders are invalid on their face, and we
reverse the denial of the petition for writ of habeas corpus.
16-93-609 is a sentencing enhancement statute. It provides:
(a) Any person who commits murder in the first
degree, § 5-10-102, rape, § 5-14-103, or aggravated
robbery, § 5-12-103, subsequent to March 24, 1983, and
who has previously been found guilty of or pleaded guilty
or nolo contendere to murder in the first degree, §
5-10-102, rape, § 5-14-103, or aggravated robbery,