FROM THE NEVADA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 50CR-04-92]
HONORABLE DUNCAN CULPEPPER, JUDGE
Law Firm, by: Lee D. Short, for appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Christian Harris, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for appellee.
JOSEPHINE LINKER HART, JUSTICE
Williams appeals from a Nevada County Circuit Court order
denying him a resentencing hearing and imposing a life
sentence with parole eligibility pursuant to the Fair
Sentencing of Minors Act of 2017 (FSMA). On appeal, Williams
argues that he is entitled to a new sentencing trial in
accordance with Harris v. State, 2018 Ark. 179, 547
S.W.3d 64; and that denying him a new sentencing trial
violated his fundamental-fairness and equal-protection
rights. We reverse and remand for resentencing in accordance
was convicted of capital murder that occurred on July 15,
2004. Williams and two others killed eighty-year-old James
Cummings in his bed during a home-invasion robbery. At the
time of the offense, Williams was less than eighteen years of
age. The jury sentenced Williams to life imprisonment without
the possibility of parole. However, his life sentence was
vacated pursuant to Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460
Miller Court held that the Eighth Amendment forbids
a mandatory sentence of life without parole for a juvenile
offender and that a juvenile facing a life-without-parole
sentence is entitled to a sentencing hearing at which the
finder of fact must consider the individual characteristics
of the defendant and the circumstances of the crime,
reserving the harshest sentence-life without the possibility
of parole-for only those offenders manifesting
"irreparable corruption." Id. On remand
from the Supreme Court, we decided in Jackson v.
Norris, 2013 Ark. 175, 426 S.W.3d 906, a companion case
to Miller, that after the grant of habeas relief,
Jackson was entitled to a sentencing hearing at which
Miller evidence could be considered. We further held
that Jackson's sentence must fall within the statutory
discretionary sentencing range for a Class Y felony, which is
ten to forty years or life. Id. In Kelley v.
Gordon, 2015 Ark. 277, 465 S.W.3d 842, we held that
Jackson was to be applied retroactively to all
27, 2016, the Lincoln County Circuit Court granted
Williams's habeas petition and vacated his sentence. The
case was then transferred to Nevada County for a resentencing
hearing. The hearing was set for August 27, 2017. However,
the Arkansas General Assembly passed the FSMA (Act 539 of
2017), which became effective on March 20, 2017. The FSMA
replaced life without parole as a sentence for juvenile
offenders with a life sentence that allowed for parole
eligibility. On June 22, 2017, the State filed a motion to
resentence Williams under the FSMA. Williams opposed the
State's motion, arguing that Jackson and
Gordon entitled him to a resentencing hearing where
a sentencing range consistent with a Class Y felony could be
considered. The circuit court sentenced Williams under the
FSMA to a term of life imprisonment with the possibility of
parole after thirty years.
the circuit court's order but before briefing commenced
in this case, we handed down Harris v. State, 2018
Ark. 179, 547 S.W.3d 64, where we determined that individuals
like Harris, who had their sentences vacated pursuant to
Miller, were not subject to sentencing under the
FSMA. On appeal, Williams argues that his case should be
controlled by Harris even though Harris was
handed down after the circuit court's ruling. He contends
that he raised an argument to the circuit court that was
substantially similar to the argument raised by Harris.
Further, citing Kelley v. Gordon, supra,
Williams asserts that he is entitled to a sentencing hearing
as a matter of fundamental fairness. We agree.
we are mindful that Harris was decided after the
circuit court denied Williams a sentencing hearing, it is of
no moment. We recently disposed of this very issue in
Howell v. State, 2019 Ark. 59, ___ S.W.3d ___. We
applied the exception to the preservation jurisprudence
articulated by the Supreme Court in Hormel v.
Helvering, 312 U.S. 552 (1941). Id. We noted
that the Hormel exception applies when "there
have been judicial interpretations of existing law after
decision below and pending appeal-interpretations which if
applied might have materially altered the result."
Id. at4-5, __ S.W.3d at__ (quoting Hormel,
312 U.S. at 558-59). We accepted the Supreme Court's
rationale that rules of practice and procedure are devised to
promote the ends of justice, not to defeat them. Furthermore,
we note that Williams raised an argument to the circuit court
that was nearly identical to the argument that Harris raised
in his case. "Stare decisis" is Latin for "to
stand by things decided." Black's Law
Dictionary 1443 (8th ed. 2004). Under this doctrine, we
are obligated to decide a similar issue in a manner
consistent with our prior decision. We have likewise applied
the broad holding in Harris to other appeals in
which Miller defendants have been denied
resentencing hearings. See, e.g., Howell,
2019 Ark. 59, ___ S.W.3d___; Ray v. State, 2019 Ark.
46, 567 S.W.3d 63; Segerstrom v. State, 2019 Ark.
36, 566 S.W.3d 466; Robinson v. State, 2018 Ark.
353, 563 S.W.3d 530. Accordingly, we reverse and remand this
case to the circuit court to conduct a resentencing hearing.
and Wynne, JJ., concur.
Womack, J., dissents.
K. Wood, ...