Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Don't miss
Home / Featured / Western District says juvenile sentencing law applies retroactively

Western District says juvenile sentencing law applies retroactively

The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District on Feb. 14 declined to order a more lenient sentence for a man convicted of committing murder when he was 14.

At issue was whether it was legal for Trevon Henry to have been sentenced under a law that passed the year after the crime was committed. The appeals court said it would be “absurd” to rule otherwise.

Under Missouri Supreme Court precedent, Judge Mark D. Pfeiffer wrote for the Western District, “the General Assembly has the authority to remediate a sentencing scheme that is unconstitutional as applied, and to do so retroactively.”

In November 2015, shortly before his 15th birthday, Henry cut a woman’s throat and stabbed her 48 times while stealing her car. He was certified for prosecution as an adult and, in 2018, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and two counts of armed criminal action. The judge sentenced him to two consecutive life sentences, plus 50 years for each count of armed criminal action that ran concurrently.

If Henry had been older than 18 when he committed his crime, he would have faced a minimum sentence of life without parole. However, a series of U.S. Supreme Court precedents have limited the range of punishments for juvenile offenders.

In its 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama, the high court said juvenile offenders can’t be sentenced to life without parole unless a jury imposes the sentence based on the particular offender’s circumstances. The court later said that Miller’s holding was retroactive to inmates already serving life sentences.

In response, the Missouri legislature passed a law in 2016 that allows parole hearings for inmates previously sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles, so long as they have served at least 25 years in prison. The bill also added a wider range of sentencing provisions for those who are under 18 when they commit first-degree murder. Henry was sentenced under that law’s provisions.

Henry’s post-conviction motion argued that the 2016 statute wasn’t in effect at the time of the murder and couldn’t be applied retroactively. He argued that his “illegal” guilty plea should be withdrawn.

But Pfeiffer said that, by its plain terms, the new law applies to offenses committed before the effective date of the bill.

“It is absurd to suggest that the General Assembly had the authority to retroactively remediate sentences already imposed by the time S.B. 590 was enacted but had no authority to remediate sentences yet to be imposed for juvenile offenders who committed the offense of first-degree murder prior to the enactment of S.B. 590,” he wrote.  Chief Judge Gary D. Witt and Judge Cynthia L. Martin concurred.

The case is Henry v. State of Missouri, WD84685.