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Bell v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

January 28, 2019

JONSHA BELL Petitioner
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI Respondent

          EN BANC ORDER

          JOSIAH D. COLEMAN, JUSTICE.

         Before the Court is Jonsha Bell's Application for Leave to File Motion for Post-Conviction Relief. Also before the Court are the State of Mississippi's Response in Opposition to Application for Leave to File Motion for Post-Conviction Relief, and Bell's Reply to State's Response in Opposition to Application for Leave to File Motion for Post-Conviction Relief.

         In 1995, Bell was convicted of armed robbery, burglary, and two counts of kidnapping. Bell committed the offenses when he was seventeen years old. He was sentenced as a habitual offender to serve aggregate sentences totaling ninety-five years without the possibility of parole. In the instant petition, Bell asserts that his sentences are tantamount to an illegal, life-without-parole sentence for a juvenile, non-homicide offender. See Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed.2d 825 (2010) (Eighth Amendment prohibits imposition of life-without-parole sentences on juvenile, non-homicide offenders).

         After due consideration, the Court finds that Bell's petition is without merit and should, therefore, be denied.

         IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Jonsha Bell's Application for Leave to File Motion for Post-Conviction Relief is hereby denied.

         SO ORDERED.

          TO DENY: WALLER, C.J., RANDOLPH, P.J., COLEMAN, MAXWELL, BEAM AND CHAMBERLIN, JJ.

          TO GRANT: KITCHENS, P.J., KING AND ISHEE, JJ.

          KING, J., OBJECTS TO THE ORDER WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN STATEMENT JOINED BY KITCHENS, P.J., AND ISHEE, J.

          KING, JUSTICE, OBJECTING TO THE ORDER WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN STATEMENT:

         ¶1. Pursuant to the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, "[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." U.S. Const. amend. VIII; see also Miss. Const. art 3, § 28 ("Cruel or unusual punishment shall not be inflicted, nor excessive fines be imposed."). The United States Supreme Court, in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed.2d 825 (2010), held that the Eighth Amendment barred courts from sentencing juvenile nonhomicide offenders to life without parole. Because aggregate term-of-years sentences that leave a defendant without an opportunity to obtain release are the fundamental equivalent of life without parole, I disagree with the majority's order denying Jonsha Bell's petition for post-conviction relief.

         ¶2. Bell, in the aggregate, was sentenced to serve ninety-five years for crimes committed when he was just seventeen years old. I would find that Bell's sentences violate the Supreme Court's holding in Graham, which mandated that "the State must . . . give defendants like Graham some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation." Graham, 560 U.S. at 75. The Supreme Court reasoned that "life without parole is 'the second most severe penalty permitted by law.'" Id. at 71 (quoting Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957, 1001, 111 S.Ct. 2680, 115 L.Ed.2d 836 (1991)). It shares characteristics with the death penalty that no other sentence shares. Id. As the Court stated, a life without parole sentence guarantees that a juvenile offender

will die in prison without any meaningful opportunity to obtain release, no matter what he might do to demonstrate that the bad acts he committed as a teenager are not representative of his true character, even if he spends the next half century ...

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