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146478 - People v Carp (Raymond)

The People of the State of Michigan,
Timothy K. Morris
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
(St. Clair – Adair, J.)
Raymond Curtis Carp,
Patricia L. Selby


​On May 31, 2006, 15-year-old Raymond Carp helped his 22-year-old half-brother, Brandon Gorecki, murder May Ann McNeely.  Evidence showed that Carp threw a mug at McNeely, handed Gorecki a knife when he asked for one, and pulled the window blinds closed while Gorecki stabbed McNeely to death.  Afterwards, Gorecki stole items from McNeely’s home.  

Carp was arrested and tried as an adult.  He was convicted of first-degree murder, armed robbery, and larceny, and sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole for the murder conviction.  Carp appealed his convictions, but the Court of Appeals affirmed in 2008, and the Supreme Court denied leave to appeal in 2009. 

Carp then filed a motion for relief from judgment in 2010.  The Court of Appeals initially denied leave to appeal, but then granted leave to appeal in 2012 after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Miller v Alabama, 567 US ___; 132 S Ct 2455; 183 L Ed 2d 407 (2012).  The Miller Court held, for the first time, that mandatory life without parole for juvenile homicide offenders violated the Eighth Amendment.  A sentencing court must take into account “how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison,” the Miller Court held.  “[A] judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest of possible penalties for juveniles.  By requiring that all children convicted of homicide receive lifetime incarceration without possibility of parole, regardless of their age and age-related characteristics and the nature of their crimes, the mandatory sentencing schemes before us violate this principle of proportionality, and so the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.” 

In Carp’s case, the Michigan Court of Appeals started with the dispositive question of whether Miller would apply retroactively to those cases where the defendant’s direct appeal had already concluded.  Because Carp’s appeal ended in 2009, and his conviction was finalized at that time, he could only obtain relief under Miller if that case applied retroactively.  The Court of Appeals considered first whether Miller was retroactive under federal law, applying the test set forth in Teague v Lane, 489 US 288; 109 S Ct 1060; 103 L Ed 2d 334 (1989).  The panel held that Miller established a new rule that was procedural in nature; under Teague, unless such a rule is a “watershed” rule of criminal procedure, it does not apply retroactively.  The U.S. Supreme Court explained in Whorton v Bockting, 549 US 406; 127 S Ct 1173; 167 L Ed 2d 1 (2007): “In order to qualify as watershed, a new rule must meet two requirements.  First, the rule must be necessary to prevent an impermissibly large risk of an inaccurate conviction.  Second, the rule must alter our understanding of the bedrock procedural elements essential to the fairness of a proceeding.”  Neither of these requirements was met in this case, the Court of Appeals held.  Miller was not retroactive under federal law.

The Court of Appeals also held that Miller was not retroactive under state law, applying the test set forth in People v Maxson, 482 Mich 385 (2008).  Maxson directs courts to consider three factors when determining if a new rule of criminal procedure is retroactive:  (1) the purpose of the new rule; (2) the general reliance on the old rule; and (3) the effect of retroactive application of the new rule on the administration of justice.  Miller was not concerned with the determination of guilt or innocence, and did not affect the integrity of the fact-finding process; the panel held that, under Maxson, the first factor weighed against retroactive application.  While the second factor may be favorable to defendants, some of whom might receive sentencing relief, the Court of Appeals concluded that it was not dispositive.  In assessing the third factor, the Court of Appeals noted that, although retroactive application of Miller could result in a number of juveniles sentenced to non-parolable life in prison receiving relief, the effect of the appeals would have a negative effect on the state’s limited judicial resources.  “Particularly when viewed in conjunction with our determination under federal law, we find that under Michigan law Miller is not subject to retroactive application to cases on collateral review.” 

Although it held that Carp was not entitled to any relief, the Court of Appeals concluded its opinion by providing guidance for trial courts as to other cases currently in process or on remand following direct appellate review.  “When sentencing a juvenile, defined now as an individual below 18 years of age for a homicide offense, the sentencing court must, at the time of sentencing, evaluate and review those characteristics of youth and the circumstances of the offense as delineated in Miller and this opinion in determining whether following the imposition of a life sentence the juvenile is to be deemed eligible or not eligible for parole.  We further hold that the Parole Board must respect the sentencing court’s decision by also providing a meaningful determination and review when parole eligibility arises.” 

Carp appealed.  On November 6, 2013, the Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to appeal, limited to the question “whether Miller v Alabama, 567 US ___; 132 S Ct 2455; 183 L Ed 2d 407 (2012), applies retroactively under federal law, per Teague v Lane, 489 US 288; 109 S Ct 1060; 103 L Ed 2d 334 (1989), and/or retroactively under state law, per People v Maxson, 482 Mich 385 (2008), to cases that have become final after the expiration of the period for direct review.”