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Lewis v. Wolfe

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 13, 2017

ANTHONY RASHAN LEWIS
v.
WILLIAMS J. WOLFE, et al. RODNEY LEE WALTON
v.
LOUIS FOLINO, et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          BARTLE, J.

         Before the court are the motions by respondents for a stay pending appeal of this court's orders dated March 30, 2017. In those orders, this court conditionally granted the petitions of Anthony Rashan Lewis and Rodney Lee Walton for writs of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and ordered petitioners released from custody unless they are resentenced on or before July 31, 2017.

         Petitioners, who were co-defendants, were convicted of second degree murder in the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and sentenced in 1997 to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Both were 17 years old and thus juveniles on May 22, 1996, the date of the murder. We have been advised that they were taken into custody shortly after the crime took place and have been in custody ever since.

         In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), the Supreme Court of the United States held that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment to impose a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole on a person who was a juvenile at the time of the commission of the crime.[1] The Court was particularly offended that under this rigid sentencing scheme the sentencing court does not take into consideration the individual history and circumstances of the juvenile to be sentenced. The Court explained, ”given all we have said . . . about children's diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change, we think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.” Id. at 2469. The Court in effect ruled that it was unconstitutional to take a “one size fits all” approach.

         Lewis and Walton were sentenced long before the Supreme Court's decision in Miller. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), the Supreme Court applied Miller retroactively and thus made it applicable to petitioners.

         Near the end of 2013, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit granted motions of Lewis and Walton to file a second or successive petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on the basis that they had made a prima facie showing that they were entitled to relief under Miller. In re: Anthony Rashan Lewis, No. 13-1225 (3d Cir. Dec. 12, 2013); In re: Rodney Lee Walton, No. 13-2652 (3d Cir. Dec. 31, 2013). The matters were stayed pending a decision by the Supreme Court in Montgomery.

         In post-conviction proceedings in Lancaster County, the Common Pleas Court on April 13, 2016 granted the petitions of Walton and Lewis for relief and scheduled the resentencings on November 1 and November 2, 2016, respectively. As a result, this court granted a stay of their § 2254 petitions on April 20, 2016 based on assurances that the resentencings would take place on the scheduled dates in early November. Without notification to this court, the District Attorney of Lancaster County on May 17, 2016 obtained a stay from the Court of Common Pleas of the November 1 and 2, 2016 resentencings pending the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Batts, 135 A.3d 176 (Pa. 2016). Argument took place in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Batts on December 7, 2016. Commonwealth v. Batts, No. 45 MAP 2016, at *9 (Pa. April 19, 2016). No decision has yet been handed down.

         That case involves a 14 year old, Qu'eed Batts, who was convicted of a first degree murder and sentenced to a mandatory life sentence in 2007 without the possibility of parole. After a number of trips to the Pennsylvania Superior and Supreme Courts, he is still under the same mandatory life sentence. See Commonwealth v. Batts, 974 A.2d 1175 (Pa. Super. Ct.2009); Commonwealth v. Batts, 66 A.3d 286 (Pa. 2013); Commonwealth v. Batts, 125 A.3d 33, 35 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2015); Commonwealth v. Batts, 135 A.3d 176 (Pa. 2016). On April 19, 2016 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted Batts' petition for allowance of appeal on the following issues:

(1) In Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed mandatory life without parole for juveniles (LWOP), and instructed that the discretionary imposition of this sentence should be ‘uncommon' and reserved for the ‘rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.'
(i) There is currently no procedural mechanism to ensure that juvenile LWOP will be ‘uncommon' in Pennsylvania. Should this Court exercise its authority under the Pennsylvania Constitution to promulgate procedural safeguards including (a) a presumption against juvenile LWOP; (b) a requirement for competent expert testimony; and (c) a ‘beyond a reasonable doubt' standard of proof?
(ii) The lower court reviewed Petitioner's sentence under the customary abuse of discretion standard. Should the Court reverse the lower court's application of this highly deferential standard in light of Miller?
(2) In Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that the basis for its individualized sentencing requirement was Graham's comparison of juvenile LWOP to the death penalty. The Petitioner received objectively less procedural due process than an adult facing capital punishment. Should the Court address the constitutionality of the Petitioner's resentencing proceeding?

Commonwealth v. Batts, 135 A.3d 176 (Pa. 2016).

         Whether or not the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will resolve all the procedural issues for the resentencings of Lewis and Walton to the ...


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