Darryl Tate v State of Louisiana (Supreme Court of Louisiana, 5 November 2013, reported in The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.), 6 November 2013)
Hat-tip to journalist Claire Galofaro whose exceptionally detailed report provided material for this casenote.
At age 17, Darryl Tate (applicant), shot a man in the course of a robbery, causing fatal injuries. In 1981, he pleaded guilty in Louisiana to second degree murder and was sentenced to a mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole.
In 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States found (in Miller v Alabama) that mandatory sentences of life without parole for offenders aged under 18 represented a cruel and unusual punishment and were therefore unconstitutional. It was held that a criminal court must required to consider the offender’s background, moral comprehension and rehabilitation prospects, although a sentence of life without parole might remain a permissible sentence after considering those factors.
The decision did not make clear whether Miller v Alabama required sentences already passed to be revisited. Courts in Missisippi, New Hampshire, Iowa and Illinois have considered that such sentences must be re-opened. The opposite view was taken by courts in Florida, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. No consensus has emerged from the Federal circuit courts.
The applicant initially sought review of his sentence from the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. His application was rejected and he appealed to Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. The appellate Court considered Miller’s Case to be retrospective and ordered that the applicant be re-sentenced.
The State appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana.
The Court found that Miller’s Case is not retrospective. It considered that the law requires a decision be treated retrospectively only where a substantive issue is involved (for example, the prohibition of the death penalty for infants). On its assessment, the change to the law was procedural: life imprisonment remains permissible but only the processes required before imposing such a term have changed. Hence, it was not retrospective.
The state’s appeal was upheld and Tate’s original sentence confirmed.
A dissenting judgment was entered by Johnson CJ and Hughes J.
Tate has the option of appealing to the Federal courts.