Wharton v. MississippiAnnotate this Case
Darren Lee Wharton was found guilty by a jury of capital murder in 1995 for the shooting death of Danny McCugh during the commission of a robbery. The crime occurred on July 17, 1994, when Wharton was seventeen years of age. Wharton was granted leave by the Mississippi Supreme Court to the proceed with a motion for post-conviction relief (PCR) based on Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016). The trial court vacated Wharton’s life- without-parole sentence for capital murder and granted Wharton a Miller sentencing hearing. The trial court denied Wharton’s request that a jury make the Miller determination, stating that “the sentencing authority is the trial court.” Following the Miller hearing, the trial court resentenced Wharton to life in prison without parole. The Court of Appeals reversed Wharton’s sentence and remanded the case to the trial court, instructing that “Wharton’s Miller resentencing should be decided by a jury, not the trial court, because Wharton was convicted and sentenced under [Mississippi Code Section] 99-19-101 that prescribes sentencing solely by a jury.” The State petitioned for a writ of certiorari, which was granted. The Supreme Court found Wharton was not entitled to have a Miller resentencing hearing in front of a new jury because Section 99-19-101 was complied with at the original sentencing proceeding. Accordingly, it reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision. Further, although the Court of Appeals did not reach the question, the Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision not to resentence Wharton to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Accordingly, the Court reinstated and affirmed.