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Ninth Circuit Finds Graham v. Florida Retroactive; 254-Year Sentence Unconstitutional

Ninth Circuit Finds Graham v. Florida Retroactive; 254-Year Sentence Unconstitutional

by Mark Wilson

On August 7, 2013, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held the Supreme Court’s categorical ban on life without parole (LWOP) sentences for non-homicide juvenile offenders applied retroactively on collateral review.

Roosevelt Brian Moore sexually assaulted four women on different occasions in February and March 1991. Despite being 16 years old, he was tried as an adult and convicted on 24 counts, including forcible rape, second-degree robbery, forcible sodomy and kidnapping.

The trial court imposed consecutive sentences totaling 254 years and four months. Moore was required to serve half his sentence – 127 years and two months – before becoming eligible for parole. “Because Moore would have to live to be 144 years old to be eligible for parole,” the Ninth Circuit observed, “his chance for parole is zero.”

Moore unsuccessfully exhausted his appellate remedies on May 27, 1993. Seventeen years later, however, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Graham v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010) [PLN, Dec. 2010, p.42], finding that the Eighth Amendment imposes a categorical ban on LWOP sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses. “The Constitution requires the State to give juvenile non-homicide offenders ‘some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,”’ Graham held.

On May 10, 2011, Moore filed a federal habeas corpus petition seeking the benefit of Graham. The district court summarily dismissed his petition for non-exhaustion of state remedies. Moore sought clarification of the court’s ruling in July 2011, supported by evidence that he had exhausted his state remedies.

The district court treated the request as a motion to alter or amend the judgment under F.R.C.P. 59(e) or for relief from judgment under F.R.C.P. 60(b)(6). It denied the motion, however, holding that Graham was not retroactive on collateral review.

The Ninth Circuit reversed on appeal, joining the Fifth Circuit in finding that Graham is retroactive under Teague v. Lane, 109 S.Ct. 1060 (1989). The appellate court also noted that the Eleventh Circuit had suggested that Graham is retroactive. See: In re Moss, 703 F.3d 1301 (11th Cir. 2013) and Loggins v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1204 (11th Cir. 2011).

Although “Moore’s conviction became final in 1993,” the Court of Appeals concluded that “he may challenge his sentence under Graham because Graham established a new rule of law that is retroactive on collateral review.”

The Court then held that Graham’s and Moore’s crimes and sentences were materially indistinguishable, and Moore’s 254-year sentence was unconstitutional under Graham.

“Moore’s sentence guarantees that he will die in prison because the trial judge determined at the outset that Moore could not rehabilitate,” the Ninth Circuit wrote. “Moore has now spent over half of his life in prison. Still he has no hope of reentering society. His past and future efforts to reform are immaterial. Moore’s sentence is irreconcilable with Graham’s mandate that a juvenile non-homicide offender must be provided ‘some meaningful opportunity’ to reenter society.” Accordingly, the case was remanded with instructions to grant Moore’s habeas petition. The state’s motion for rehearing en banc was denied in February 2014. See: Moore v. Biter, 725 F.3d 1184 (9th Cir. 2013), rehearing and rehearing en banc denied.

Following remand the district court entered an order on July 30, 2014 that granted a conditional writ of habeas corpus to Moore, requiring California officials to resentence or release him within 90 days. The state trial court resentenced Moore on October 24, 2014 and imposed the same sentence of more than 254 years; however, the court specified that he would be eligible for parole at the age of 62. Moore is currently appealing that sentence.


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Related legal cases

Moore v. Biter

Graham v. Florida