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State v. Valencia

Court of Appeals of Arizona, Second Division

March 28, 2016

THE STATE OF ARIZONA, Respondent,
v.
GREGORY NIDEZ VALENCIA JR., Petitioner. THE STATE OF ARIZONA, Respondent,
v.
JOEY LEE HEALER, Petitioner

          Petitions for Review from the Superior Court in Pima County. Nos. CR051447 and CR48232. The Honorable Catherine M. Woods, Judge. The Honorable James E. Marner, Judge.

         Barbara LaWall, Pima County Attorney, By Jacob R. Lines, Deputy County Attorney, Tucson, Counsel for Respondent.

         Dean Brault, Pima County Legal Defender, By Alex Heveri, Assistant Legal Defender, Tucson, Counsel for Petitioner Gregory Nidez Valencia Jr.

         Steven R. Sonenberg, Pima County Public Defender, By David J. Euchner and Katherine A. Estavillo, Assistant Public Defenders, Tucson, Counsel for Petitioner Joey Lee Healer.

         Judge Espinosa authored the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Miller and Chief Judge Eckerstrom concurred.

          OPINION

         ESPINOSA, Judge:

         [¶1] Gregory Valencia Jr. and Joey Healer seek review of trial court orders denying their respective petitions for post-conviction relief, in which they argued Miller v. Alabama, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), constitutes a significant change in the law applicable to their natural-life prison sentences. Because Miller, as clarified by the United States Supreme Court in Montgomery v. Louisiana, __ U.S. __, __, 136 S.Ct. 718, 734, 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016), " bar[s] life without parole" for all juvenile offenders except those " whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility," we accept review and grant relief.

         Procedural Background

         [¶2] Valencia and Healer were each convicted of first-degree murder in addition to other offenses and were sentenced to natural life in prison. Both were juveniles at the time of their offenses. Although we vacated one of Valencia's non-homicide convictions on appeal, we affirmed his remaining convictions and sentences. State v. Valencia, No. 2 CA-CR 96-0652 (memorandum decision filed Apr. 30, 1998). We affirmed Healer's convictions and sentences on appeal. State v. Healer, No. 2 CA-CR 95-0683 (memorandum decision filed Dec. 24, 1996).

         [¶3] In 2013, Valencia filed two notices of post-conviction relief, along with a supplement, raising various claims, including that Miller constituted a significant change in the law pursuant to Rule 32.1(g), Ariz. R. Crim. P. The trial court, treating Valencia's second notice as a petition for post-conviction relief, summarily denied relief. On review, we granted partial relief, determining Valencia had not been given an adequate opportunity to raise his claim based on Miller because the court had erred in construing his second notice as his petition for post-conviction relief. We thus remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings related to that claim, but otherwise denied relief. State v. Valencia, No. 2 CA-CR 2013-0450-PR, (memorandum decision filed May 6, 2014).

         [¶4] Healer also sought post-conviction relief in 2013, seeking to raise a claim pursuant to Miller and requesting that counsel be appointed. The trial court, however, summarily dismissed his notice, concluding Miller did not apply. We granted relief, determining Healer was entitled to counsel and to file a petition for post-conviction relief and remanding the case to the trial court for further proceedings. State v. Healer, No. 2 CA-CR 2013-0372-PR, (memorandum decision filed Jan. 28, 2014).

         [¶5] Valencia and Healer then filed separate petitions in which they raised the same argument--that Miller constituted a significant change in the law applicable to their respective natural-life sentences. They contended that under Miller, Arizona's sentencing scheme is unconstitutional because a life sentence was essentially a sentence of life without a meaningful opportunity for release due to the abolition of parole. Each further argued our sentencing scheme is unconstitutional because " it completely fails to take any account of the attendant characteristics of youth." Last, both argued " the process by which [they] w[ere] sentenced was unconstitutional" because the court " failed to give proper weight to youth and its attendant characteristics."

         [¶6] The trial court in each proceeding summarily denied relief. The court in Valencia's proceeding noted that, " at the time of sentencing" the court believed " that it had the discretion to impose natural life or, alternatively, life with the opportunity for parole after 25 years." It further observed that Valencia had been given individualized sentencing consideration as required by Miller and that, after that consideration, the court found his youth to be a mitigating factor but, in consideration of other factors, had nonetheless determined a natural-life sentence was appropriate.

         [¶7] The trial court in Healer's proceeding determined that any constitutional infirmity in Arizona's sentencing scheme had been resolved by recent statutory changes reinstating parole for juvenile offenders given a life sentence with an opportunity for release. The court further determined that, in any event, the sentencing court had found Healer's age to be a mitigating factor and had imposed a natural-life sentence ...


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