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Flowers v. State

Supreme Court of Minnesota

February 28, 2018

Brian Lee Flowers, Respondent,
v.
State of Minnesota, Appellant.

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Jean Burdorf, Assistant County Attorney, Brittany D. Lawonn, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota for appellant.

          Perry L. Moriearty, Child Advocacy and Juvenile Justice Clinic, University of Minnesota Law School, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Bradford Colbert, Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.

         SYLLABUS

         1. Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), does not limit a district court's authority to impose consecutive sentences of life imprisonment with the possibility of release upon a juvenile offender.

         2. Jackson v. State, 883 N.W.2d 272 (Minn. 2016), does not limit a district court's authority to impose consecutive sentences of life imprisonment with the possibility of release upon a juvenile offender.

         Reversed and remanded.

          OPINION

          McKEIG, Justice.

         The State of Minnesota challenges a Hennepin County District Court order that specifies that Brian Lee Flowers's sentences shall run concurrently. Flowers, a juvenile at the time of his offense, was convicted of two counts of first-degree premeditated murder in 2009 and sentenced to two mandatory terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Six years later, he petitioned for postconviction relief, arguing that his sentences violated the rule announced in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). The district court granted Flowers's petition and asked the parties to brief the issue of resentencing. Flowers argued in part that the court's authority to impose consecutive life sentences with the possibility of release after 30 years was limited by both Miller and our decision in Jackson v. State, 883 N.W.2d 272 (Minn. 2016). The district court imposed two concurrent life sentences with the possibility of release after 30 years. Because neither Miller nor Jackson limited the court's authority to impose consecutive sentences in this case, we reverse and remand for resentencing.

         FACTS

         In 2009, a Hennepin County jury found Brian Lee Flowers guilty of two counts of first-degree premeditated murder, Minn. Stat. §§ 609.05, subd. 1, 609.185(a)(1) (2016), and two counts of first-degree felony murder, Minn. Stat. §§ 609.05, subd. 1, 609.185(a)(3). Flowers was 16 years old at the time of the offense. Flowers, along with a co-defendant, was convicted of murdering Katricia Daniels and her son, Robert Shephard. Crime scene evidence showed that the two victims had been brutally killed, each suffering numerous stab wounds and blunt force trauma. Because the then-existing statutory scheme mandated the imposition of life imprisonment without the possibility of release (LWOR), the district court did not order a presentence investigation (PSI) or hold a contested sentencing hearing. Before imposing the sentences, however, the court did consider several statements, including statements by Flowers and a relative, who spoke on Flowers's behalf, in accordance with Minn. R. Crim. P. 27.03, subd. 3. Flowers was sentenced to two consecutive life terms of imprisonment without the possibility of release. We affirmed Flowers's convictions on direct appeal. State v. Flowers, 788 N.W.2d 120, 122 (Minn. 2010).

         In 2015, Flowers filed a petition for postconviction relief, relying on Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 480 (2012). Miller held that mandatory LWOR sentences for juvenile offenders violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. 567 U.S. at 479. Although Flowers's conviction was final before Miller was decided, Flowers was entitled to retroactive application of the Miller rule under Montgomery v. Louisiana, __U.S.__, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). The district court granted Flowers's petition and scheduled a Miller hearing to allow the parties to present evidence about whether Flowers fell within the category of rare juvenile offenders for whom a LWOR sentence was not cruel and unusual punishment because their crimes reflected irreparable corruption.

         While the parties were preparing for the Miller hearing, we decided Jackson v. State, 883 N.W.2d 272 (Minn. 2016). In Jackson, the juvenile offender filed a petition for postconviction relief challenging the district court's imposition of a mandatory LWOR sentence for a single conviction of first-degree murder. We concluded that the rule articulated in Miller, and later clarified in Montgomery, had been violated because the court imposed a mandatory sentence of LWOR without considering "whether Jackson fell within the vast majority of juvenile offenders whose crimes reflect 'transient immaturity, ' or whether Jackson was one of the 'rare' juveniles whose crimes reflect 'irreparable corruption' or 'permanent incorrigibility.' " Id. at 279. We also concluded that there was no fair or meaningful way that the district court could make the constitutionally mandated determination that Jackson was irreparably corrupt because such a determination required an evaluation of Jackson's "mindset and characteristics from many years ago." Id. at 280 (observing that the defendant's LWOR sentence was imposed 10 years prior). As a result, our remand order did not direct the district court to hold a Miller hearing. Id. at 282. Instead, we directed the district court to impose a sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of release after 30 years.[1] Id.

         After reviewing our decision in Jackson, the district court informed the parties that the scheduled Miller hearing would no longer take place because "the [Minnesota] Supreme Court has said that basically courts can't do that." Based on Jackson, the parties agreed that Flowers could not be resentenced to LWOR, but instead had to be resentenced to two life terms with the possibility of release after 30 years. The parties disagreed about whether the sentences should run consecutively or concurrently. According to Flowers, the court's authority to impose consecutive life sentences was limited by Miller and Jackson. Citing State v. Ali (Ali I), 855 N.W.2d 235 (Minn. 2014), the State argued the court could impose discretionary consecutive sentences irrespective of Miller and Jackson. The State emphasized that "proof of irreparable corruption" was not constitutionally required before a court could impose consecutive sentences for multiple convictions of first-degree murder involving more than one victim. Instead, the relevant inquiry was whether, when compared to past sentences imposed on other offenders, consecutive sentences were commensurate with Flowers's culpability and criminality. See State v. Warren, 592 N.W.2d 440, 451-52 (Minn. 1999) ("[G]uided by past sentences imposed on other offenders[, ]" "we will consider whether consecutive sentences are 'commensurate with culpability and not an exaggeration of defendant's criminality.' ").

         The district court resentenced Flowers to two concurrent life sentences with the possibility of release after 30 ...


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