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Carter v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

August 29, 2018

Daniel Carter
v.
State of Maryland James E. Bowie
v.
State of Maryland Matthew Timothy McCullough
v.
State of Maryland

          Argument: February 6, 2018

          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case Nos. 198265028, 03-K-04-001787

         Circuit Court for Charles County Case No. 08-K-96-000119

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.

          OPINION

          MCDONALD, J.

         It has been said that "mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty."[1] A sentence of life in prison without parole may be just for certain adult offenders, but the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishments precludes that sentence for a juvenile offender unless the defendant is an incorrigible murderer. Although there need not be a guarantee of release on parole, a sentence imposed on a juvenile offender must provide "some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation."[2]

         In this opinion, we consider three cases involving crimes that were committed when each Petitioner was a juvenile.[3] None of the sentences imposed in these cases was explicitly "life without parole." In two cases, the Petitioners were sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. In the third case, the Petitioner was sentenced to 100 years incarceration and will not be eligible for parole until he has served approximately 50 years in custody. Each Petitioner asserts that he is effectively serving a sentence of life without parole, because the laws governing parole in Maryland do not provide him with a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation." They have each filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence.

         With respect to the two Petitioners serving life sentences, we hold that their sentences are legal as the laws governing parole of inmates serving life sentences in Maryland, including the parole statute, regulations, and a recent executive order adopted by the Governor, on their face allow a juvenile offender serving a life sentence a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation."[4] We express no opinion as to whether those laws have been, or will be, carried out legally, as that issue is not before us and may be litigated in the future. With respect to the Petitioner who is serving a 100-year sentence, we hold that the sentence is effectively a sentence of life without parole violative of the Eighth Amendment and that the Petitioner is entitled to be re-sentenced to a legal sentence.[5]

         I Background

         As a predicate to explaining our decisions in these case, we first outline the constitutional limits on the punishment of juveniles recognized in recent Supreme Court decisions, then summarize the laws governing parole and executive clemency in Maryland, and finally describe the facts and procedural histories of the three cases before us.

         A. Constitutional Limits on the Punishment of Juvenile Offenders

         The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments." That prohibition applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 666 (1962). The Maryland Constitution contains similar proscriptions. See Maryland Declaration of Rights, Article 16 ("no Law to inflict cruel and unusual pains and penalties ought to be made in any case, or at any time, hereafter."), Article 25 ("cruel or unusual punishment [ought not to be] inflicted, by the Courts of Law").[6]

         1. Recent Supreme Court Decisions Applicable to Juvenile Offenders

         During the past 15 years, the Supreme Court has issued a series of decisions in which it held that the Eighth Amendment to the federal Constitution places limits on the sentencing of juvenile offenders that do not apply to the sentencing of adult offenders. In particular, the Court has held that the Eighth Amendment bars imposition of the death penalty and severely restricts the imposition of a sentence of life without parole.

         Juvenile offenders may not be sentenced to the death penalty (Roper v. Simmons)

         In 2005, the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment's proscription against "cruel and unusual punishments" prohibits the imposition of the death penalty against a defendant who committed the offense as a juvenile - i.e., when the defendant was less than 18 years old. Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005).

         In its opinion, the Court first identified a developing consensus among the states that suggested that "the evolving standards of decency" were against the imposition of the death penalty when the offender was under the age of 18. 543 U.S. at 561, 564-75. The Court found the basis for this consensus in well accepted differences between juveniles and adults. It stated that the death penalty is reserved for the worst offenders, and that several characteristics of juveniles make it difficult to reliably say whether a juvenile offender belongs in that category.

         The Court identified the following characteristics of juveniles: (1) juveniles lack maturity, leading to "an underdeveloped sense of responsibility," as well as "impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions"; (2) juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and peer pressure due, in part, to juveniles having less control over their environment or freedom "to extricate themselves from a criminogenic setting"; (3) the personality of a juvenile is not as well formed as that of an adult, and their traits are more transitory and less fixed. 543 U.S. at 569-70 (internal quotations and citations omitted). In light of these characteristics, the usual sentencing justifications for the death penalty - retribution and deterrence - did not provide adequate justification for imposing the death penalty against juvenile offenders. Id. at 571-72.

         The Court concluded that the differences between juveniles and adults "are too marked and well understood to risk allowing a youthful person to receive the death penalty despite insufficient culpability." The confluence of these factors led the Supreme Court to adopt a categorical prohibition against the imposition of the death penalty against juvenile offenders. 543 U.S. at 572-73.

         Juvenile non-homicide offenders may not be sentenced to life without parole (Graham v. Florida)

         Five years later, the Supreme Court extended the reasoning of Roper to overturn the sentence of a juvenile offender sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.[7] Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010). In contrast to its decision in Roper, the Court did not conclude that this punishment was unconstitutional for all juvenile offenders. Rather, the Court drew a distinction between juveniles convicted of homicide and those who had been convicted of other offenses, and held that a sentence of life without parole violates the Eighth Amendment when imposed on a juvenile offender who did not commit homicide. 560 U.S. at 82.

         The Court first considered whether there were "indicia of a national consensus" on the subject. After reviewing various statistics on state laws concerning juvenile sentencing and actual practice, the Court concluded that "life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide crimes is as rare as other sentencing practices found to be cruel and unusual." 560 U.S. at 66. The Court then considered whether the challenged practice serves legitimate penological goals. The Court reiterated its analysis in Roper that juveniles have "lessened culpability" in comparison to adults. It also distinguished between homicide and non-homicide offenders, recognizing that "defendants who do not kill, intend to kill, or foresee that life will be taken are categorically less deserving of the most serious form of punishment than are murderers." Id. at 69. Accordingly, "when compared to an adult murderer, a juvenile offender who did not kill or intend to kill has a twice diminished moral culpability." Id. The Court also noted that life without parole is an "especially harsh" sentence for a juvenile defendant as it condemns the juvenile to a larger percentage of the individual's life in prison than a much older individual who receives the same sentence. Id. at 70.

         The Court concluded that, although legislatures are not required to adopt any particular penological theory, no theory could justify a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender who had not committed murder. 560 U.S. at 71. The Court considered the common purposes of sentencing schemes: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation. Retribution was insufficient because "the heart of the retribution rationale is that a criminal sentence must be directly related to the personal culpability of the criminal offender[, ]" and that "the case for retribution is not as strong with a minor as with an adult." Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Deterrence could not justify the sentence because the characteristics that make juveniles more likely to make bad decisions also make them less likely to consider the possibility of punishment, which is a prerequisite to a deterrent effect. Id. at 72. Incapacitation could not support the sentence because of the difficulty in determining whether a juvenile defendant is incorrigible at the time of sentencing - i.e., "to differentiate between the juvenile offender whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity, and the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption." Id. at 72-73 (quoting Roper). Finally, rehabilitation could not justify the sentence because it denies the prisoner the right to "reenter the community [based on] an irrevocable judgment about that person's value and place in society." Id. at 74.

         Importantly, the Court stressed that "[a] State is not required to guarantee eventual freedom" because some "who commit truly horrifying crimes as juveniles may turn out to be irredeemable, and thus deserving of incarceration for the duration of their lives." 560 U.S. at 75. However, a State must "give [juvenile] defendants … some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation." Id. The Court did not purport to dictate how a state must provide that opportunity, stating that "[i]t is for the State, in the first instance, to explore the means and mechanisms for compliance." Id.

         Limitation on sentencing juvenile homicide offenders to life without parole (Miller v. Alabama)

         The decision in Graham was explicitly limited to juveniles who had committed offenses other than homicide. Two years after Graham, the Supreme Court applied some of the same reasoning to hold that the Eighth Amendment prohibits a state sentencing scheme that mandates a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender who had been convicted of homicide. Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). That decision consolidated two cases in which juvenile offenders had participated with others in offenses that resulted in death, were tried as adults, and, upon conviction, received mandatory life without parole sentences under state law.

         Miller was not simply an extension of Graham, but rather a synthesis of two distinct principles. The first principle is that "children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing." 567 U.S. at 471. The second principle is that individualized sentencing is required before imposing harsh and immutable sentences. Id. at 475. "[T]he confluence of these two lines of precedent leads to the conclusion that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment." Id. at 470.

         The Court in Miller did not hold that the Eighth Amendment categorically bars a particular sentence for juveniles, as it did in Graham and Roper. 567 U.S. at 479. Instead, it required "tak[ing] into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison." Id. at 480.

         Limitations on life without parole for juvenile offenders apply retroactively (Montgomery v. Louisiana)

         More recently, the Court considered whether its decision in Miller applied retroactively - i.e., to convictions that were final before that decision was rendered. Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). In that case, an inmate who had been convicted of committing a murder in 1963 while 17 years old and had been sentenced to life without parole sought postconviction relief in state court on the ground that Miller had rendered his sentence unconstitutional. The Supreme Court first had to resolve whether Miller should be applied retroactively in that context and concluded that it should.[8] Accordingly, convictions that were already final were subject to the principle that a sentence of life without parole is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment "for all but the rarest of juvenile offenders, whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility." 136 S.Ct. at 734.

         The Court then discussed how a postconviction court might resolve a claim under Miller. The Court stated that giving Miller retroactive effect did not require a state to relitigate the sentence, much less the conviction, in a case in which a juvenile homicide offender received a sentence of life without parole. The Court stated that compliance with Miller could be accomplished either by re-sentencing the defendant or by permitting that defendant to be considered for parole. 136 S.Ct. at 736. The Court reiterated that "prisoners who have shown an inability to reform will continue to serve life sentences." Id. However, "prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored." Id. at 736-37.

         2. Distinguishing a parole system from executive clemency

         In its trilogy of recent decisions concerning juvenile offenders who had received sentences of life without parole, the Supreme Court did not explicitly address whether a state is required to maintain a traditional parole system to provide the "meaningful opportunity for release" required by the Eighth Amendment for most juvenile offenders sentenced to life imprisonment. Indeed, the Court stated that it was the prerogative of the states "to explore the means and mechanisms for compliance." Graham, 560 U.S. at 75.[9]However, in recounting two earlier decisions not involving juvenile offenders, the Court appeared to accept the proposition that the availability of executive clemency would not satisfy the requirement of a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation." Id. at 69-70 (discussing Rummel v. Estelle, 445 U.S. 263 (1980) and Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277 (1983)).

         In Rummel, the defendant was convicted of obtaining $120.75 under false pretenses and sentenced to life imprisonment under a Texas recidivist statute - a sentence for which parole was available. The Supreme Court rejected the defendant's Eighth Amendment challenge to that sentence because, among other things, his actual sentence could be shorter than life in light of the potential for release on parole.

         Three years later, in Solem, the Court drew a distinction between the availability of parole and of executive clemency. In Solem, the defendant was convicted for writing a bad check for $100 and sentenced to life imprisonment under a South Dakota recidivist statute. Under that sentence, the defendant was not eligible for parole consideration, but executive clemency was available. 463 U.S. at 281-82. The defendant sought habeas relief and challenged the sentence as contrary to the Eighth Amendment. South Dakota argued that its commutation procedure was equivalent to parole under the Texas scheme in Rummel, and the federal district court agreed. The Eighth Circuit reversed on the ground that the sentence was grossly disproportionate to the nature of the offense in violation of the Eighth Amendment, distinguishing Rummel.

         The Supreme Court agreed with the Eighth Circuit that the case was distinguishable from Rummel. The Court stated that, unlike commutation, release by parole is "the normal expectation in the vast majority of cases" if the inmate demonstrates good behavior. Solem 463 U.S. at 300. The timing, standards, and procedures for parole are specified by law, making it "possible to predict, at least to some extent, when parole might be granted." Id. at 300-1 (internal citations omitted). On the other hand, commutation is an "ad hoc exercise of clemency … without any reference to standards." Id. at 301 (internal citation omitted).

         The Court's reasoning in Solem did not rest on a categorical distinction between parole and commutation, but examined how the two mechanisms for release of an inmate operated in practice. It characterized the decision in Rummel as "not rely[ing] simply on the existence of some system of parole[, ]" but rather "the provisions of the system presented," including a liberal policy of good time credit. Solem, 463 U.S. at 301-2 (citing Rummel, 445 U.S. at 280). South Dakota's system was not equivalent because "commutation is more difficult to obtain than parole" as illustrated by the fact that no life sentence had been commuted in eight years. Id. at 302. By contrast, parole had been "granted regularly" during the same time period. Id. The Court described South Dakota's executive clemency system as "nothing more than a hope" that would be "little different from the possibility of executive clemency that exists in every case[.]" Id. at 303. The Court declined to recognize executive clemency in South Dakota as comparable to parole because it "would make judicial review under the Eighth Amendment meaningless."

         Earlier Supreme Court decisions made a similar distinction between parole and executive clemency in other contexts. "Rather than being an ad hoc exercise of clemency, parole is an established variation on imprisonment of convicted criminals. Its purpose is to help individuals reintegrate into society as constructive individuals as soon as they are able, without being confined for the full term of the sentence imposed." Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 477 (1972). The amount of discretion the decision maker has is a recurring theme in Supreme Court cases distinguishing parole from other forms of early release. Connecticut Board of Pardons v. Dumschat, 452 U.S. 458, 466 (1981) (recognizing "unfettered discretion" in commutation proceeding "contrasts dramatically" with statutory criteria in parole).

         Reading these cases together provides some guidance for distinguishing a release mechanism or process that complies with Graham and Miller from one that does not, regardless of the label attached to the mechanism or process. In particular, the mechanism or process must have criteria for the exercise of the discretion of the decision makers. As a result, an inmate can conform his or her behavior to those criteria in a way that will materially improve the inmate's expected date of release. Under such a process, early release is not an exception for those inmates, but is expected in a large number, if not the majority, of cases.

         3. Summary

         From our excursion through the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment cases, we derive the following principles concerning the constitutional constraints on life sentences for juvenile offenders:

• With respect to juvenile offenders convicted of offenses other than homicide, the Eighth Amendment categorically bars a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of future release from custody. Graham.
• With respect to juvenile offenders convicted of homicide:
• there must be an individualized sentencing process that takes account of the offender's youth;
• the defendant may be sentenced to imprisonment without the possibility of future release only if the court determines that the defendant is incorrigible. Miller; Montgomery.
• For all juvenile offenders who are convicted of non-homicide offenses and the vast majority who are convicted of homicide, there must be a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release" from custody based on "demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation." Graham; Miller; Montgomery.
• It is up to the states in the first instance to devise the means and mechanisms for providing such a meaningful opportunity. Graham.
• A parole system that takes into account the offender's youth at the time of the offense and demonstrated rehabilitation provides such a meaningful opportunity. Graham; Miller.
• There is no constitutional requirement that a state have a parole system per se, so long as the state provides a meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. Graham.
• An executive clemency system that leaves the decision on release of an offender to the unfettered discretion of a public official or entity does not provide such a meaningful opportunity. Rummel; Solem.
• While a state's criminal justice system must provide such a meaningful opportunity, it need not guarantee release. Graham.

         B. Parole and Executive Clemency in Maryland

         The Maryland Constitution provides that "[t]he General Assembly of Maryland shall have the power to provide by suitable general enactment … for the release upon parole in whatever manner the General Assembly may prescribe, of convicts imprisoned under sentence for crimes." Maryland Constitution, Article III, §60(c). The General Assembly has exercised that constitutional authority by creating the Maryland Parole Commission and enacting statutes governing the process by which an inmate can seek release on parole. See Maryland Code, Correctional Services Article ("CS"), §7-101 et seq. Pursuant to legislative direction, the Parole Commission has adopted regulations governing its policies and activities with respect to parole. CS §7-207; COMAR 12.08.01.

         Eligibility for Parole

         Parole is the conditional release of an inmate from confinement pursuant to a decision or recommendation of the Parole Commission. See CS §7-101(i); §7-301 et seq.[10]As a general rule, an inmate who is serving a sentence longer than six months becomes eligible for parole consideration after serving one-fourth of the inmate's aggregate sentence. CS §7-301(a); COMAR 12.08.01.17A. There are a number of exceptions to that general rule, two of which are pertinent to this opinion.

         First, if the inmate was convicted of a violent crime committed after October 1, 1994, the inmate is not eligible for parole consideration until the inmate has served one-half of the aggregate sentence for the violent crimes, [11] or one-fourth of the aggregate sentence, whichever is greater. CS §7-301(c)(1)(i); COMAR 12.08.01.17A(3).

         Second, an inmate sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole is not eligible for parole consideration until the inmate has served 15 years (or the equivalent of 15 years taking into account diminution credits). CS §7-301(d)(1); COMAR 12.08.01.17A(7). In certain cases in which the inmate was convicted of first-degree murder, the inmate may not be eligible for parole until the inmate has served 25 years (taking into account diminution credits). CS §7-301(d)(2); COMAR 12.08.01.17A(7)(b).

         The Decision on Parole

         An eligible prisoner is to receive a parole hearing unless, following a review, the Parole Commission "determines that no useful purpose would be served by a hearing." COMAR 12.08.01.17A(1), (3). Hearings may be conducted by a hearing examiner employed by the Parole Commission or by a Commissioner, except that only Commissioners may conduct hearings in certain enumerated cases. CS §§7-204, 7-205. For an inmate serving a life sentence, two Commissioners conduct the initial hearing. COMAR 12.08.01.17A(7)(f).

         As a general rule, the Parole Commission "has the exclusive power" to authorize the release of an inmate on parole. CS §7-205(a)(1). However, the Parole Commission does not have the authority to grant parole directly to an inmate serving a life sentence. In a feature that distinguishes the parole system in Maryland from that in most other states, [12] the Governor plays a role in cases where the inmate is serving a life sentence. CS §7-206(3)(i); CS §7-301(d)(4)-(5).

         If both Commissioners who conduct the initial hearing agree that an inmate serving a life sentence is suitable for parole, the case is considered by the entire Parole Commission. COMAR 12.08.01.17A(7)(f), 23A. If the Parole Commission agrees by majority vote to recommend parole, it submits the recommendation to the Governor. CS §7-301(d)(5)(i); COMAR 12.08.01.17A(7)(g). The Governor may approve or disapprove the Parole Commission's recommendation, but if the Governor does not do either within 180 days of receipt of the recommendation and the inmate has already served 25 years, the Parole Commission's recommendation becomes the effective decision on parole. CS §7-301(d)(5)(ii-iii).[13]

         Parole Considerations

         To determine whether an inmate is suitable for parole, the Parole Commission is to consider a number of factors, including the circumstances of the offense; the "physical, mental, and moral qualifications" of the inmate; the progress of the inmate during confinement; any drug or alcohol evaluation of the inmate (including the inmate's amenability to treatment); whether, if released, the inmate will be law-abiding; an updated victim impact statement and any victim-related testimony; any recommendations of the sentencing judge; and whether there is a substantial risk that the inmate will not abide by the conditions of parole. CS §7-305; COMAR 12.08.01.18A(1)-(2).

         If the inmate was a juvenile at the time of the offense, the Parole Commission's regulations require consideration of the following additional factors:

(a) age at the time the crime was committed;
(b) the individual's level of maturity and sense of responsibility at the time of [sic] the crime was committed;
(c) whether influence or pressure from other individuals contributed to the commission of the crime;
(d) whether the prisoner's character developed since the time of the crime in a manner that indicates the prisoner will comply with the conditions of release;
(e) the home environment and family relationships at the time the crime was committed;
(f) the individual's educational background and achievement at the time the crime was committed; and
(g) other factors or circumstances unique to prisoners who committed crimes at the time the individual was a juvenile that the Commissioner determines to be relevant.

COMAR 12.08.01.18A(3).[14]

         Under the statute, neither the general considerations governing all decisions of the Parole Commission, nor the special considerations relating to the juvenile offenders, apply to the Governor's decision to approve or disapprove parole for an inmate serving a life sentence. However, the Governor recently issued an executive order setting forth the factors that the Governor is to consider in approving or disapproving parole for an inmate serving a life sentence and providing for a written decision by the Governor concerning the application of those factors.

         2018 Executive Order concerning Governor's Decisionmaking

         On February 9, 2018, the Governor issued an executive order that formally set forth how he would exercise his discretion under CS §7-301(d)(4)-(5) to approve or disapprove a recommendation from the Parole Commission for parole of an inmate serving a life sentence. See 45:5 Md. Reg. 261 (March 2, 2018), codified at COMAR 01.01.2018.06 ("the 2018 Executive Order").[15]

         The 2018 Executive Order provides that "the Governor shall assess and consider … the same factors and information assessed by the … Parole Commission as provided by the … Parole Commission's governing statutes and regulations," as well as "other lawful factors deemed relevant by the Governor." COMAR 01.01.2018.06A. In particular, with respect to a juvenile offender serving a life sentence, the 2018 Executive Order provides that the Governor will specifically consider:

• the juvenile offender's age at the time the crime was committed
• the lesser culpability of juvenile offenders as compared to adult offenders
• the degree to which the juvenile offender has demonstrated maturity since the commission of the crime
• the degree to which the juvenile offender has demonstrated rehabilitation since the commission of the crime

COMAR 01.01.2018.06C(1).[16]

         The 2018 Executive Order provides that, if the Governor disapproves a recommendation for parole, the Governor will provide a written decision confirming that the factors described in the executive order were considered and, in the case of a juvenile offender, stating the reasons for disapproving the Commission's recommendation. COMAR 01.01.2018.06B, C(2).[17]

         Case Law concerning Governor's Role in Parole of Inmates Serving Life Sentences

         More than 20 years ago, a previous Governor articulated a very different policy, although not in the form of an executive order, concerning the exercise of gubernatorial discretion to grant parole to inmates serving life sentences. In 1995, in the course of denying parole to several inmates serving life sentences, Governor Parris Glendening declared that he would not approve the parole of any prisoner serving a life sentence unless the inmate was very old or terminally ill. (Under the statute at that time, the Governor's affirmative approval was an absolute prerequisite for parole of an inmate serving a life sentence; gubernatorial inaction could not result in parole). As a result, the Division of Correction and the Parole Commission halted their consideration of parole recommendations for inmates serving life sentences. The Governor's announcement sparked constitutional challenges to the policy and to the Maryland parole system.

         Several inmates challenged the Glendening policy as a violation of the ex post facto clause of the State and federal Constitutions - in particular, they contended that the Governor's policy had converted a life sentence with the possibility of parole to a life sentence without parole. See Lomax v. Warden, 356 Md. 569 (1999); State v. Kanaras, 357 Md. 170 (1999); Griggs v. Maryland, 263 F.3d 355 (4th Cir. 2001); Knox v. Lanham, 895 F.Supp. 750 (D. Md. 1995), aff'd, 76 F.3d 377 (4th Cir. 1996).

         In Lomax, this Court affirmed a circuit court's denial of habeas corpus relief and held that the Glendening policy did not violate the ex post facto clause. 356 Md. at 576-77. The Court reasoned that the ex post facto clause does not apply to parole guidelines that do not have the force of law, but are simply "policies" that could be changed whenever the Governor wished to do so.[18] Id. The Court noted that "the General Assembly has not set forth any factors to guide the Governor's exercise of discretion in approving or disapproving parole recommendations." Id. at 581. The standards set out by the Legislature for parole decisions in CS §7-305 apply to the Parole Commission, not the Governor. "Accordingly, the Governor is free to employ whatever guidelines he desires in exercising his discretion, except for guidelines that are constitutionally impermissible." Id. at 578 n.2.

         In Kanaras, the Court reiterated its holding concerning the ex post facto clause and also held that a motion to correct an illegal sentence was not the appropriate procedural vehicle to challenge the alleged failure of the Parole Commission and the Commissioner of Correction to exercise their discretion as to whether to recommend parole. Kanaras, 357 Md. at 185. Although the Court recognized that some of the actions of the Parole Commission and Commissioner of Correction were illegal, that illegality "did not inhere in Kanaras's sentence" and was "subject to correction through a proper proceeding, such as a declaratory judgment action, a mandamus action, or a habeas corpus proceeding." Id. at 185. The Court noted that the United States District Court in Knox had already ordered the Parole Commission and the Commissioner of Correction to carry out their duties under State law to make recommendations to the Governor concerning parole of inmates serving life sentences.

         Governor Glendening left office in 2003, and although his successors did not announce a similar explicit policy, it is undisputed that prisoners serving life sentences have rarely been paroled in the intervening decades. Recent legal developments have suggested that parole of inmates serving life sentences will no longer be blocked by such a policy. In 2011, the Legislature amended the statute to provide that gubernatorial inaction in the face of a favorable parole recommendation would not block release of certain inmates serving life sentences. See footnote 13, above. As noted above, in an explicit reversal of the Glendening policy, the 2018 Executive Order states that the Governor will give consideration to favorable parole recommendations with respect to inmates serving life sentences.

         Executive Clemency under the Maryland Constitution

         Distinct from the Governor's role in the parole of inmates serving life sentences, the Maryland Constitution confers the independent power of executive clemency on the Governor. In particular, it provides that the Governor "shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons, except in cases of impeachment, and in cases in which he is prohibited by other Articles of this Constitution; … and before granting a … pardon, he shall give notice, in one or more newspapers, of the application made for it, and of the day on, or after which, his decision will be given; and in every case, in which he exercises this power, he shall report to either Branch of the Legislature, whenever required, the petitions, recommendations and reasons, which influenced his decision." Maryland Constitution, Article II, §20; see also CS §7-601 et seq.[19] While the Constitution authorizes the Governor to grant pardons and reprieves of sentences, it does not provide criteria as to when that power should be exercised.

         C. Facts and Proceedings

         The question raised in each of these three consolidated appeals concerns sentences imposed on juvenile offenders that theoretically carry the possibility of parole but, the Petitioners' argument goes, are functionally equivalent to life without parole sentences, and therefore contrary to the recent Supreme Court guidance. These cases present three permutations: (1) a homicide case in which the defendant received a sentence of life imprisonment; (2) a non-homicide case in which the defendant received a sentence of life imprisonment; and (3) a non-homicide case involving multiple offenses in which the defendant received an aggregate sentence of 100 years imprisonment.

         1. Daniel Carter

         Convicted of homicide and sentenced to life with eligibility for parole

         Daniel Carter was 15 years old in 1998 when he committed the offenses for which he is currently imprisoned. Those offenses all related to the fatal shooting of another man. On September 16, 1999, a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City found Mr. Carter guilty of first-degree murder, use of a handgun in a crime of violence, and possession of a handgun.

         He was sentenced on November 9, 1999. The State recommended a life sentence with all but 50 years suspended for the murder, and 20 years for the handgun use charge. (The State indicated that it did not object to running the sentence for the handgun charge concurrently with the sentence for the murder charge.) Mr. Carter's counsel asked that the court suspend a significant portion of the sentence, citing his youth, unstable home life, and limited capacity for understanding. In allocution, Mr. Carter denied committing the murder. The Circuit Court stated that it was "not satisfied that [Mr. Carter] would be anything other than a detriment and a danger to other people on the street[, ]" and sentenced Mr. Carter to a life sentence for the murder with a consecutive 20 year term for the handgun charge.

         We understand that Mr. Carter will become eligible for parole after serving 25 years (with allowance for diminution credits), as a result of his consecutive sentences for homicide (eligible after serving 15 years) and for the handgun charge, a violent crime (eligible after serving one-half the sentence - that is, 10 years). CS §7-301(d)(1); CS §7-301(c)(1)(ii). We were advised by his counsel at oral argument that it is anticipated that he will have a parole hearing sometime later this year or next year.

         On September 28, 2015, Mr. Carter filed a pro se motion under Maryland Rule 4-345 to correct an illegal sentence. The motion relied primarily on Miller, arguing that the sentencing judge should have considered Mr. Carter's youth, intellectual and psychological disabilities, and social background. In addition, Mr. Carter highlighted several accomplishments during his incarceration, which he said demonstrated that he was amenable to rehabilitation. The Circuit Court denied Mr. Carter's motion. In its written order, the court noted that, unlike the situation in Miller, Mr. Carter had not been sentenced to life without parole and therefore will eventually be eligible for parole consideration - a decision it felt was "properly left to the executive branch."

         Mr. Carter sought review in the Court of Special Appeals. Mr. Carter argued that, in light of Governor Glendening's stated policy, [20] his sentence was functionally one of life without the possibility of parole. In an unreported opinion dated August 11, 2017, the Court of Special Appeals rejected that argument and dismissed the appeal as premature. The intermediate appellate court reasoned that Mr. Carter was not yet eligible for parole, that the Parole Commission had not yet made a recommendation to the Governor, that the Governor had not yet disapproved such a recommendation, and accordingly, that Mr. Carter had suffered no legally cognizable harm under the recent Eighth Amendment case law. The court also held that Mr. Carter lacked standing to argue that Maryland's parole system is unconstitutional as applied to all juvenile offenders serving life sentences.

         Mr. Carter petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari, which we granted.

         2. James Bowie

         Convicted of non-homicide offenses and sentenced to life with ...


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