Aiken v. Byars (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-130-14, 19 pp.) (Kaye Hearn, J.) (Costa Pleicones, J., concurring) (Jean Hoefer Toal, Ch. J., joined by John Kittredge, J., dissenting) S.C. S. Ct.
Holding: Even though petitioners, who were juveniles when they committed their crimes, were not subject to mandatory sentences of life without parole, since their sentencing hearings did not sufficiently take into account the characteristics of youth, their life without parole sentences violate the Eighth Amendment under Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012).
Petitioners and those similarly situated are entitled to resentencing.
The Miller court held that mandatory life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences for juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Although a court may still sentence a juvenile to LWOP after an individualized hearing, the Court cautioned that, given children’s diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change, the appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.
Miller prohibits a certain category of punishment for a class of defendants because of their status or offense; therefore, the new constitutional rule set out in Miller applies retroactively.
Miller does not expressly apply to states such as South Carolina whose sentencing scheme permits an LWOP sentence to be imposed on a juvenile offender but does not mandate it. However, it is the failure of a sentencing court to consider the hallmark features of youth prior to sentencing that offends the Constitution.
Although some of petitioners’ hearings touched on the issues of youth, none of them approached the sort of hearing envisioned by Miller where the factors of youth are carefully and thoughtfully considered. A sentencer is required to take into account how children are different and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison. The absence of this level of inquiry into the characteristics of youth produced a facially unconstitutional sentence for these petitioners.
Petitioners and those similarly situated are entitled to resentencing. Before an LWOP sentence is imposed on a juvenile offender, he must receive an individualized hearing where the mitigating hallmark features of youth are fully explored.
(Pleicones, J.) While I agree with the dissent that Miller does not require that we grant relief to juveniles who received discretionary LWOP sentences, and that the majority exceeds the scope of current Eighth Amendment jurisprudence in ordering relief under Miller, I would reach the same result under S.C. Const. art. I, §15.
(Toal, Ch. J.) Miller is retroactive only with respect to juveniles sentenced to mandatory LWOP. South Carolina employs a discretionary sentencing scheme, in which sentencing courts consider all mitigating evidence presented by the criminal defendant. Thus, South Carolina courts already consider the hallmark features of youth. I would find that Miller does not apply retroactively in discretionary sentencing jurisdictions such as South Carolina.
Even if Miller did apply retroactively in South Carolina, each petitioner’s case should be reviewed individually before he or she is granted a new sentencing hearing.