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146819 - People v Davis (Cortez)

The People of the State of Michigan,
Timothy A. Baughman
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
(Wayne – Jones, V.)
Cortez Roland Davis,
Clinton J. Hubbell


​Sixteen-year-old Cortez Davis was involved in a robbery that ended with the shooting death of the robbery victim.  Davis’s companion fired all of the five shots that killed the victim; witnesses testified that Davis was involved in the robbery aspect of the crime.  A jury convicted Davis of first-degree felony murder, armed robbery, assault with intent to rob while armed, and felony-firearm.  The trial judge held a hearing to determine if Davis should be sentenced as an adult or as a juvenile.  She concluded that sentencing him as a juvenile would be dangerous for society, because he would be released from the juvenile system before he had sufficient time to be rehabilitated.  But she also rejected the mandatory sentence of life without parole required for adult defendants, concluding that it would be cruel and unusual under the circumstances.  “[I]n this instance when this young man was not the person who pulled the trigger, he was an aider and abettor in an armed robbery, he was convicted of first-degree murder by the jury . . . the only other option of then sentencing him as an adult and imposing a life sentence, mandatory life sentence, is cruel and unusual punishment, when everyone agrees that he is capable of rehabilitation.”  The trial judge sentenced Davis to a prison term of 10 to 40 years for felony murder in addition to lesser terms for the other convictions.  But the Court of Appeals peremptorily reversed, and the trial judge then imposed the required term of life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Davis’s right to a direct appeal ended in 1994, and his conviction became final.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham v Florida, 560 US 48; 130 S Ct 2011; 176 L Ed 2d 825 (2010), that the Eighth Amendment precluded sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole for crimes less than homicide.  The next year, Davis filed a motion for relief from judgment, claiming that Graham amounted to a retroactive change in the law and that he was entitled to resentencing.  The trial court denied the motion, ruling that Graham applied only to non-homicide offenses. 

Davis appealed this ruling to the Court of Appeals, which denied leave to appeal. In an order, the Court of Appeals explained that it agreed with the trial court that Graham did not apply to this case, where Davis was convicted of felony murder, “a homicide offense.” 

Davis then appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.  While his application for leave to appeal was under review, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Miller v Alabama, 567 US ___; 132 S Ct 2455; 183 L Ed 2d 407 (2012).  In Miller, the Court held for the first time that the mandatory imposition of life without parole on juvenile homicide offenders violated the Eighth Amendment.  Davis supplemented his application, arguing that Miller compelled relief. 

The Michigan Supreme Court remanded Davis’s case to the trial court for reconsideration of Davis’s motion for relief from judgment and his claim of relief under Miller, including the question of whether Miller was retroactive and could apply to a case, like Davis’s, where the direct appeal had concluded and the conviction was final.  Before the trial court acted, the Court of Appeals released its opinion in People v Carp, 298 Mich App 472 (2012), holding that Miller did not apply retroactively.  But the trial court determined that Carp did not apply to this situation, and ruled that Davis should be resentenced under Miller.

The prosecutor appealed.  In a peremptory order, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision to resentence Davis:  “In People v Carp, . . . this Court held that Miller is not to be applied retroactively to those cases on collateral review.  The Carp decision has precedential effect under the rule of stare decisis, and the circuit court is required to follow published decisions from this Court.” 

Davis appealed.  Among other arguments, Davis contended that there is a categorical ban on life-without-parole sentences for juveniles who were convicted of felony murder but who were not the actual shooters.  Davis noted that, in Graham, the United States Supreme Court recognized that “defendants who do not kill, intend to kill, or foresee that life will be taken are categorically less deserving of the most serious forms of punishment than are murderers . . . .  It follows that, when compared to an adult murderer, a juvenile offender who did not kill or intend to kill has a twice diminished moral culpability.” 

On November 6, 2013, the Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to appeal “limited to the issues: (1) whether the prohibition against ‘cruel and unusual punishments’ found in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and/or the prohibition against ‘cruel or unusual punishment’ found in Const 1963, art 1, § 16, categorically bar the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a defendant under the age of 18 convicted of first-degree murder for having aided and abetted the commission of a felony murder; and (2) if such a categorical bar exists, whether it applies retroactively, under federal or state law, to cases that have become final after the expiration of the period for direct review.  See Teague v Lane, 489 US 288; 109 S Ct 1060; 103 L Ed 2d 334 (1989); People v Maxson, 482 Mich 385 (2008).”