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Christopher J. v. Ames

Supreme Court of West Virginia

June 10, 2019

CHRISTOPHER J., Petitioner

          Submitted: April 9, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Berkeley County Honorable Michael D. Lorensen, Judge Civil Action No. 15-C-48

          S. Andrew Arnold, Esq. Daniel J. Kirkland, Esq. Arnold & Bailey, PLLC Charles Town, West Virginia Attorney for Petitioner

          Patrick Morrisey, Esq. Attorney General Caleb A. Ellis, Esq. Assistant Attorney General Robert L. Hogan, Esq. Deputy Attorney General Charleston, West Virginia Attorneys for Respondent

          JUSTICES ARMSTEAD and JENKINS concur in part; and dissent in part; and reserve the right to file separate opinions.


         1. "The presumption is that a statute is intended to operate prospectively, and not retrospectively, unless it appears, by clear, strong and imperative words or by necessary implication, that the Legislature intended to give the statute retroactive force and effect." Syllabus point 4, Taylor v. State Comp. Com'r, 140 W.Va. 572, 86 S.E.2d 114 (1955).

         2. "A statute is enacted as a whole with a general purpose and intent, and each part should be considered in connection with every other part to produce a harmonious whole. Words and clauses should be given a meaning which harmonizes with the subject matter and the general purpose of the statute. The general intention is the key to the whole and the interpretation of the whole controls the interpretation of its parts." Syllabus point 1, State ex rel. Holbert v. Robinson, 134 W.Va. 524, 59 S.E.2d 884 (1950).

         3. "That which is necessarily implied in a statute, or must be included in it in order to make the terms actually used have effect, according to their nature and ordinary meaning, is as much a part of it as if it had been declared in express terms." Syllabus point 4, Smith v. State Workmen's Comp. Comm'r, 159 W.Va. 108, 219 S.E.2d 361 (1975).

         4. "In the interpretation of statutory provisions the familiar maxim expressio unius est exclusio alterius, the express mention of one thing implies the exclusion of another, applies." Syllabus point 3, Manchin v. Dunfee, 174 W.Va. 532, 327 S.E.2d 710 (1984).

         5. The parole eligibility requirement for juveniles under W.Va. Code § 61-11-23(b) (2018), of the Juvenile Sentencing Reform Act, is to be applied retroactively to juveniles sentenced as adults before the statute's effective date of June 6, 2014.

         6. "In order to obtain a new trial on a claim that the prosecutor presented false testimony at trial, a defendant must demonstrate that (1) the prosecutor presented false testimony, (2) the prosecutor knew or should have known the testimony was false, and (3) the false testimony had a material effect on the jury verdict." Syllabus point 2, State ex rel. Franklin v. McBride, 226 W.Va. 375, 701 S.E.2d 97 (2009).

         7. "Punishment may be constitutionally impermissible, although not cruel or unusual in its method, if it is so disproportionate to the crime for which it is inflicted that it shocks the conscience and offends fundamental notions of human dignity, thereby violating West Virginia Constitution, Article III, Section 5 that prohibits a penalty that is not proportionate to the character and degree of an offense." Syllabus point 5, State v. Cooper, 172 W.Va. 266, 304 S.E.2d 851 (1983).

         8. "While our constitutional proportionality standards theoretically can apply to any criminal sentence, they are basically applicable to those sentences where there is either no fixed maximum set by statute or where there is a life recidivist sentence." Syllabus point 4, Wanstreet v. Bordenkircher, 166 W.Va. 523, 276 S.E.2d 205 (1981).



         This appeal arises from a habeas corpus proceeding and was brought by Christopher J. (hereinafter "Petitioner") from the October 6, 2017, order of the Circuit Court of Berkeley County.[1] In this appeal the Petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in finding (1) that he could not be considered for parole under W.Va. Code § 61-11-23(b); (2) that no false and perjured testimony was presented at his trial; and (3) that his sentence was not disproportionate to the crimes he committed. The State argues that the issues were properly resolved by the circuit court and should be affirmed.[2] Upon careful review of the briefs, the appendix record, the arguments of the parties, and the applicable legal authority, we affirm in part and reverse in part.



         The underlying facts of this case are not in dispute.[3] The record in this matter shows that in 2007, the mother of two infant boys asked the Petitioner to babysit them.[4] The Petitioner was sixteen years old at the time. While babysitting the two children, the Petitioner sexually abused both of them. The two children did not report the sexual abuse to their parents until 2012. After the children's parents informed the police of the allegations, the Petitioner was indicted on two charges of sexual assault in the first degree, and two charges of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian, or person in a position of trust.

         The Petitioner was tried for the crimes as an adult in 2013. The jury acquitted Petitioner of one count of sexual assault in the first degree, however, the jury found him guilty of the second count of sexual assault in the first degree and the two counts of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian, or person in a position of trust. The circuit court sentenced Petitioner to an aggregate sentence of thirty-five to seventy-five years of incarceration. The Petitioner was further sentenced to fifty years of supervised release and was required to register as a sexual offender for his lifetime.

         The Petitioner appealed the conviction to this Court. In 2014, while the appeal was still pending, the Legislature enacted the Juvenile Sentencing Reform Act, W.Va. Code § 61-11-23.[5] This Court entered a Memorandum Decision affirming the conviction on June 13, 2014, several days after the effective date of the Juvenile Sentencing Reform Act, June 6, 2014. The Petitioner subsequently filed this habeas corpus proceeding in circuit court.[6] The circuit court entered an order on October 6, 2017, that found the Petitioner failed to set out any grounds that warranted relief.[7] This appeal from the habeas proceeding followed.



         In this case, the Petitioner challenges the circuit court's order denying his habeas petition. We review the circuit court's order under the following standard:

In reviewing challenges to the findings and conclusions of the circuit court in a habeas corpus action, we apply a three-prong standard of review. We review the final order and the ultimate disposition under an abuse of discretion standard; the underlying factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard; and questions of law are subject to a de novo review.

Syl. pt. 1, Mathena v. Haines, 219 W.Va. 417, 633 S.E.2d 771 (2006). With this standard in mind, we now address the issues presented.



         The Petitioner has set out three assignments of error. We will review each assignment of error separately below.[8]

         A. Retroactivity of W.Va. Code § 61-11-23(b)

         The first issue raised by the Petitioner is that the circuit court erred in concluding that the Legislature did not intend for W.Va. Code § 61-11-23(b) of the Juvenile Sentencing Reform Act to be applied retroactively. The State argues that the circuit court's ruling was correct and that there is nothing in the text of the statute which shows that the Legislature intended for the statute to operate retroactively. In order to fully understand the Juvenile Sentencing Reform Act, some discussion is in order regarding the trilogy of United States Supreme Court decisions that prompted legislative action in this area.

         The first case in the trilogy was Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 125 S.Ct. 1183, 161 L.Ed.2d 1 (2005). The defendant in Roper was convicted of capital murder by the state of Missouri and sentenced to death. When the defendant committed the murder, he was seventeen years old. After exhausting his direct appeals, the defendant filed a habeas petition in state court arguing that the execution of individuals under 18 years of age at the time they committed their capital crimes, is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed with the defendant and vacated his death sentence. The state appealed to the United States Supreme Court. In Roper, the Supreme Court held that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution prohibit a death penalty sentence for persons who committed capital crimes as juveniles. The decision affirming the lower court was based, in part, on a recognition of three general differences between juveniles and adults. The Supreme Court reasoned as follows:

Three general differences between juveniles under 18 and adults demonstrate that juvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders. First, as any parent knows and as the scientific and sociological studies respondent and his amici cite tend to confirm, [a] lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults and are more understandable among the young. These qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions. It has been noted that adolescents are overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior. In recognition of the comparative immaturity and irresponsibility of juveniles, almost every State prohibits those under 18 years of age from voting, serving on juries, or marrying without parental consent.
The second area of difference is that juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure. This is explained in part by the prevailing circumstance that juveniles have less control, or less experience with control, over their own environment.
The third broad difference is that the character of a juvenile is not as well formed as that of an adult. The personality traits of juveniles are more transitory, less fixed.
These differences render suspect any conclusion that a juvenile falls among the worst offenders. The susceptibility of juveniles to immature and irresponsible behavior means their irresponsible conduct is not as morally reprehensible as that of an adult. Their own vulnerability and comparative lack of control over their immediate surroundings mean juveniles have a greater claim than adults to be forgiven for failing to escape negative influences in their whole environment.

Roper, 543 U.S. at 569-570, 125 S.Ct. at 1195 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         The Supreme Court expanded its Roper analysis in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed.2d 825 (2010), to persons sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide crimes committed when they were juveniles. The defendant in Graham was charged by the state of Florida with armed burglary and attempted armed robbery. The defendant was sixteen years old at the time of the crimes. The defendant pled guilty to both charges. The trial court accepted the plea but deferred sentencing the defendant and placed him on probation. The defendant subsequently violated probation and was sentenced under the plea to life imprisonment for the armed burglary and 15 years for the attempted armed robbery. After the defendant exhausted his direct appeal in state courts, he filed a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. Consistent with its reasoning in Roper, the Supreme Court granted relief to the defendant in Graham, in part, based upon the following:

No recent data provide reason to reconsider the Court's observations in Roper about the nature of juveniles. As petitioner's amici point out, developments in psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds. For example, parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to mature through late adolescence. Juveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of irretrievably depraved character than are the actions of adults. It remains true that [f]rom a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed.
In sum, penological theory is not adequate to justify life without parole for juvenile nonhomicide offenders. This determination; the limited culpability of juvenile nonhomicide offenders; and the severity of life without parole sentences all lead to the conclusion that the sentencing practice under consideration is cruel and unusual. This Court now holds that for a juvenile offender who did not commit homicide the Eighth Amendment forbids the sentence of life without parole. This clear line is necessary to prevent the possibility that life without parole sentences will be imposed on juvenile nonhomicide offenders who are not sufficiently culpable to merit that punishment. Because [t]he age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood, those who were below that age when the offense was committed may not be sentenced to life without parole for a nonhomicide crime.

Graham, 560 U.S. at 68-75, 130 S.Ct. at 2026-2030 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         In Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), the Supreme Court extended its Roper/Graham analysis to persons who committed homicides as juveniles and sentenced to life in prison. The decision in Miller involved two consolidated criminal cases. In both cases, the defendants were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.[9] At the time of the murders, both juveniles were 14 years old. In the consolidated appeals to the Supreme Court, the defendants argued that a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole, for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18, violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. The Supreme Court agreed with the defendants as follows:

The cases before us implicate two strands of precedent reflecting our concern with proportionate punishment. The first has adopted categorical bans on sentencing practices based on mismatches between the culpability of a class of offenders and the severity of a penalty…. Several of the cases in this group have specially focused on juvenile offenders, because of their lesser culpability. Thus, Roper held that the Eighth Amendment bars capital punishment for children, and Graham concluded that the Amendment also prohibits a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for a child who committed a nonhomicide offense. Graham further likened life without parole for juveniles to the death penalty itself, thereby evoking a second line of our precedents. In those cases, we have prohibited mandatory imposition of capital punishment, requiring that sentencing authorities consider the characteristics of a defendant and the details of his offense before sentencing him to death. Here, the confluence of these two lines of precedent leads to the conclusion that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment.
Roper and Graham establish that children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing. Because juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform … they are less deserving of the most severe punishments. Those cases relied on three significant gaps between juveniles and adults. First, children have a lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, leading to recklessness, impulsivity, and heedless risk-taking. Second, children are more vulnerable ... to negative influences and outside pressures, including from their family and peers; they have limited contro[l] over their own environment and lack the ability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings. And third, a child's character is not as well formed as an adult's; his traits are less fixed and his actions less likely to be evidence of irretrievabl[e] depravity.

Miller, 567 U.S. at 470-471, 132 S.Ct. at 2463-1464 (internal quotations and citations ...

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