State v. Jefferson, ___ N.C. App. ___, 798 S.E.2d 121 (Mar. 7, 2017)

The defendant’s sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after a term of 25 years does not violate the Eighth Amendment under Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). As a 15-year-old, the defendant was charged with first-degree murder. He was found guilty under the felony murder rule and under then-applicable law, was sentenced to a mandatory term of life without the possibility of parole. While the defendant’s appeal was pending, the United States Supreme Court decided Miller, holding that mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment. The General Assembly then amended the statute to provide that the sentence for a defendant found guilty of first-degree murder solely under the felony murder rule shall be life in prison with the possibility of parole; a defendant sentenced under this provision must serve a minimum of 25 years before becoming eligible for parole. The defendant’s sentence was vacated on appeal and remanded to the trial court for resentencing pursuant to the new statute. The trial court held a resentencing hearing and imposed a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years. The court declined the defendant’s invitation to extend Miller to sentences that include the possibility of parole. It added, however:

Nevertheless, we note there may indeed be a case in which a mandatory sentence of life with parole for a juvenile is disproportionate in light of a particular defendant’s age and immaturity. That case is not now before us. Defendant chooses only to assert that [the statute] fails to provide a trial judge with discretion to consider the mitigating factors of youth and immaturity. He does not show the existence of circumstances indicating the sentence is particularly cruel or unusual as-applied to him.

The court affirmed the sentence, noting that the defendant had failed to meet the burden of the facial constitutional challenge and did not bring an as-applied challenge.