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Ali v. Roy

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 14, 2018

Mahdi Hassan Ali, Petitioner,
v.
Tom Roy, Minnesota Commissioner of Corrections, Respondent.

          Leslie J. Rosenberg, Assistant State Public Defender, Office of the Minnesota Appellate Defender, 540 Fairview Avenue North, Suite 300, St. Paul, MN 55104 (for Petitioner);

          Jean Burdorf, Assistant County Attorney, Hennepin County Attorney's Office, C-2000 Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for Respondent).

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Tony N. Leung United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court, United States Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung, on a petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a writ of habeas corpus. (ECF No. 1). This action has been referred to the undersigned for a report and recommendation to the Honorable Eric C. Tostrud, United States District Judge for the District of Minnesota, under 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule 72.1. Based on all the files, records, and proceedings herein, and for the reasons set forth below, this Court recommends that the petition be denied and dismissed with prejudice and a certificate of appealability issue.

         I. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On January 6, 2010, Petitioner Mahdi Hassan Ali shot and killed three people during a robbery of the Seward Market in Minneapolis, Minnesota. State v. Ali, 855 N.W.2d 235, 240 (Minn. 2014) (“Ali I). A state grand jury indicted Ali on three counts of first-degree premeditated murder and three counts of first-degree felony murder. Id. at 243. Because the indictment alleged that Ali was at least 16 years old at the time of the shooting, he was automatically certified to stand trial as an adult under Minnesota law. Id. A jury found Ali guilty of one count of first-degree premeditated murder, two counts of second-degree murder, and three counts of first-degree felony murder. Id. at 243. The district court, Minnesota's trial court, sentenced Ali to two life sentences with the possibility of release after 30 years for two of the first-degree felony murder convictions and to a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of release for the first-degree premeditated murder conviction. Id. at 243.

         Ali appealed his sentences, among other things, to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Id. at 244. There, he argued that the imposition of a sentence of life without the possibility of release violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. Id. at 252. He also argued that the imposition of consecutive sentences violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment and Article I, Section 5 of the Minnesota Constitution because those sentences were the practical equivalent of a life sentence without the possibility of release. Id. at 257. In making each of those arguments, Ali relied in part on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 465 (2012). Id. at 252-53. Ali argued that, as applied to juvenile offenders, Miller made unconstitutional Minnesota law that mandated the imposition of a life sentence without the possibility of release for premeditated murder. Id. at 253. He argued that Miller required the district court to sentence him to life with the possibility of release after 30 years. Id. The State conceded that the district court should resentence Ali for the first-degree premeditated murder conviction but argued that the district court should do so following a “Miller hearing.” Id.

         The Minnesota Supreme Court remanded the matter back to the district court and ordered the district court to conduct a Miller hearing, where the district court was to consider mitigating circumstances, including Ali's age and upbringing, before resentencing. Id. at 253-57. The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected Ali's argument that the imposition of consecutive sentences violated his Eighth Amendment rights. Id. at 258. It concluded that the Eighth Amendment prohibited only the mandatory imposition of a life sentence without the possibility of release for juvenile offenders. Id. It held that the district court had the discretion to impose consecutive sentences and that Ali's sentences were consistent with sentences that other courts imposed for similar offenses. Id. at 258- 59.

         At the resentencing hearing for Ali's first-degree premeditated murder conviction, the State argued that the district court did not need to hold a Miller hearing because the State would stipulate to a third consecutive sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of release after 30 years. State v. Ali, 895 N.W.2d 237, 240 (Minn. 2017) (“Ali II”). The State explained that judicial economy would be best served by forgoing a Miller hearing because “the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the consecutive imposition of essentially the three life terms” and Ali would “be over 100 years old before he is eligible for parole.” Id. In response, Ali argued that the Eighth Amendment still required the district court to conduct a Miller hearing. Id. at 241. He contended that such a hearing was required because three consecutive life sentences with the possibility of release was the “functional equivalent” of a life sentence without the possibility of release. Id. In addition, though Ali claimed that a Miller hearing was required, he argued that because the legislature had not provided “a framework” for those hearings, the district court could not hold such a hearing without violating the separation of powers doctrine. Id. He further argued that the district court should impose three concurrent life sentences with the possibility of release after 30 years. Id.

         Without holding a Miller hearing, the district court sentenced Ali to three consecutive life sentences, each with the possibility of release after 30 years. Id. The district court determined that Ali's sentences did not violate the Eighth Amendment. Id. The district court reasoned that a Miller hearing was not required because the imposition of multiple consecutive sentences “was not the same” as a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of release for a single offense, even if the consecutive sentences resulted in the juvenile serving the “functional equivalent” of a life sentence without the possibility of release. Id. As a result, the district court did not hold a Miller hearing before sentencing Ali. Id.

         Ali again appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which affirmed his sentences. Id. at 246. The Minnesota Supreme Court determined that the rule announced in Miller, and made retroactive in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), did not extend to cases where the imposition of consecutive sentences would amount to the functional equivalent of a life sentence without the possibility of release. Id. The Minnesota Supreme Court acknowledged a split among courts that had considered the issue but explained that “absent further guidance” from the United States Supreme Court, it would “not extend the Miller/Montgomery rule to include . . . juvenile offenders who are being sentenced for multiple crimes.” Id. at 246.

         Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Margaret Chutich dissented. Id. at 248. She stated that because the Eighth Amendment “dictates that sentencing courts must honor the constitutional differences between children and adults and treat juvenile offenders differently, ” “the characteristics of youth and the prospects for rehabilitation must be evaluated before a juvenile offender is condemned to a lifetime in prison, no matter whether the juvenile committed one offense or multiple offenses.” Id. at 250-51. Justice Chutich concluded that she would remand to the district court for the imposition of three concurrent sentences of life imprisonment with the possibility of release after 30 years because the passage of time made it impossible to hold a meaningful Miller hearing in Ali's case. Id. at 253.

         Ali now seeks habeas relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 1). Ali asserts that the imposition of three consecutive life sentences, each with the possibility of release after 30 years, is the functional equivalent of a life sentence without the possibility of release. He argues that, absent a Miller hearing, his sentences violate his Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. Respondent timely filed an answer opposing the petition. (ECF No. 7).

         II. ...


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