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Robinson v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

December 13, 2018

VERNON ROBINSON APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE ASHLEY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 02CR-1983-56-3] HONORABLE ROBERT BYNUM GIBSON, JR., JUDGE.

          Montgomery, Adams & Wyatt, PLC, by: James W. Wyatt, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Christian Harris, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          JOHN DAN KEMP, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Appellant Vernon Robinson appeals from the Ashley County Circuit Court's order denying him a resentencing hearing and imposing a sentence of life with parole eligibility pursuant to the Fair Sentencing of Minors Act of 2017 (FSMA or "the Act").[1] We reverse the circuit court's order and remand for resentencing in accordance with our decision in Harris v. State, 2018 Ark. 179, 547 S.W.3d 64.

         I. Facts

         In 1983, Robinson pleaded guilty to the capital murder of Alice Mosley. The crime carried a mandatory statutory penalty of death or life imprisonment without parole. See Ark. Stat. Ann. § 41-1501(3) (Repl. 1977). Robinson was seventeen years old[2] at the time of the murder, and he received a sentence of life without parole. In 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States held that "the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders." Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 479 (2012). The Court further held that defendants who committed homicide crimes as juveniles and faced a sentence of life without parole were entitled to a sentencing hearing that would permit a judge or jury to consider the individual characteristics of the defendant and the individual circumstances of the crime as mitigating factors for a lesser sentence. Id. at 489.

         Following the Supreme Court's decision in Miller and this court's decision on remand in Miller's companion case, Jackson v. Norris, 2013 Ark. 175, 426 S.W.3d 906, Robinson petitioned for writ of habeas corpus in the Lincoln County Circuit Court and argued that his sentence was unconstitutional. On June 27, 2016, the circuit court granted Robinson's petition, vacated his sentence, and remanded his case to the Ashley County Circuit Court for resentencing. The circuit court had yet to conduct a Miller hearing, however, when the Arkansas General Assembly passed the FSMA, which, among other things, eliminated life without parole as a sentencing option for juvenile offenders and extended parole eligibility to juvenile offenders.[3] Although Robinson's sentence had been vacated before the FSMA was enacted, the circuit court nevertheless relied on the Act's provisions in resentencing him to life with the possibility of parole after thirty years.[4] On appeal, Robinson challenges the circuit court's application of the FSMA to his case.

         II. Juvenile Sentencing

         In Harris, 2018 Ark. 179, 547 S.W.3d 64, this court considered whether the FSMA's penalty and parole-eligibility provisions apply to a defendant whose sentence had been vacated before the FSMA was enacted. We held that the penalty provisions of the FSMA are not retroactive; therefore, the revised punishment for juveniles convicted of capital murder applies only to crimes committed on or after March 20, 2017, the effective date of the FSMA. Id. at 14, 547 S.W.3d at 71. Further, we held that the parole-eligibility provision did not apply at the time of Harris's hearing because "by its plain language, the provision applies only to those juvenile offenders who are serving a sentence for either capital or first-degree murder." Id. at 11, 547 S.W.3d at 70. Because Harris's sentence was vacated in 2016, he was no longer serving a sentence to which parole eligibility could attach. Thus, the parole-eligibility provision did not apply to Harris at the time of his May 8, 2017 hearing.

         The facts in this case are analogous to those in Harris. Robinson, like Harris, committed his crime before the effective date of the FSMA; therefore, the penalty provisions do not apply. Robinson's sentence, like Harris's sentence, was vacated by the circuit court in 2016. Thereafter, Robinson, like Harris, was no longer serving a sentence to which parole eligibility could attach. Accordingly, the parole-eligibility provision of the FSMA did not apply to Robinson at the time of his July 24, 2017 hearing.

         Based on our decision in Harris, we hold that the circuit court erred in applying the FSMA to Robinson's case.[5] Robinson is entitled to a hearing to present Miller evidence for consideration and sentencing within the discretionary range for a Class Y felony, which is ten to forty years or life. See Ark. Code Ann. § 5-4-401(a) (Repl. 2013); Harris, 2018 Ark. 179, 547 S.W.3d 64; Jackson, 2013 Ark. 175, 426 S.W.3d 906.

         Reversed and remanded.

          Hart, Wood, and ...


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