juvenile offenders

Andrew Jameson / wikimedia commons

The University of Michigan Law School hosted a panel on life sentences for juveniles on Monday.  

In Michigan, a first-degree murder conviction results in an automatic life sentence for anyone 14 or older. There are currently 359 people in the state serving life without parole for crimes committed as minors. Michigan is one of 11 states with this type of law.

Austin Land works at a law firm that focuses on these kind of cases. He says these convictions are a human rights violation, because children are not able to fully participate in the adult criminal system. 

"Children have adolescent brains, they are risk-prone, and they lack adult faculties of judgment," Land said . "This all affects their ability to participate in their own defense, their ability to plea bargain."

On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court heard arguments for a pair of cases involving men who were fourteen when they were sentenced to life in prison without parole. Defendants claim this violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on ‘cruel and unusual punishment. ’ 

-Alex Markel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Andrew Bardwell / wikimedia commons

Michigan has one of the country's highest numbers of "juvenile lifers"---prisoners sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as minors---359 total.

That includes six who were only 14 when they committed their crimes.

These numbers come from an in-depth report from John Barnes at MLive.com.

Barnes profiled those six, including TJ Tremble, who has spent half his life, 14 years, in a state prison following a murder conviction. Tremble has no hope of release because of a mandatory life sentence.

Now, for the youngest of young offenders at least, there could be a path toward release. That's because of a pair of upcoming U.S. Supreme Court cases involving young offenders.