Pennsylvania v. Cunningham (majority)Annotate this Case
In 1999, Appellant, his codefendant, and two accomplices robbed the occupants of a vehicle at gunpoint. In the course of the robbery, Appellant shot and killed the victim. At the time, Appellant was seventeen years of age. In 2002, Appellant was convicted of second-degree murder and related offenses. He received a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, plus a term of imprisonment. On direct appeal, the Superior Court affirmed; the Supreme Court denied Appellant’s petition for allowance of appeal; and Appellant did not seek discretionary review in the United States Supreme Court. Appellant then timely filed a post-conviction petition claiming, inter alia, that the life-without-parole sentence violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as extended to the States via the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case was whether “Miller v. Alabama,” (132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012)) applied retroactively to Appellant’s 2002 judgment of sentence, which became final in 2005. The United States Supreme Court issued the Miller decision in June 2012, rendering Pennsylvania’s mandatory scheme of life imprisonment for first- and second-degree murder unconstitutional, as applied to offenders under the age of eighteen at the time of their crimes. Significantly, as pertaining to this case, the Miller majority did not specifically address the question of whether its holding applied to judgments of sentence for prisoners, such as Appellant, which already were final as of the time of the decision. The Pennsylvania Court applied settled principles of appellate review, and found nothing in Appellant’s arguments persuaded it that Miller’s proscription of the imposition of mandatory life-without-parole sentences upon offenders under the age of eighteen at the time their crimes were committed must be extended to those whose judgments of sentence were final as of the time of Miller’s announcement.