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Lawsuit: Four Michigan counties not following U.S. Supreme Court juvenile lifers rulings

Jan 11, 2017

Prosecutors for Macomb, Saginaw, Genesee, and Oakland counties in Michigan are not complying with two U.S. Supreme Court decisions about juvenile lifers, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in state court.

The complaint says the four prosecutors are seeking life without parole in the re-sentencing of almost every one of the more than 100  juvenile lifer cases in their counties. And the complaint says this is in direct disregard of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

In 2012, the high court held in Miller that mandatory sentences of life without parole for people under 18 were cruel and unusual punishment - and therefore unconstitutional - in all but the rarest of cases where homicide crimes reflect  such " irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible. " In its 2016 Montgomery decision, the Supreme Court made this ruling retroactive.  

Joseph Alonzo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said  it makes no sense for the four county prosecutors to seek re-sentencings of life without parole for almost all of the juvenile lifers in their jurisdictions, when the Supreme Court has ruled that life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional with very few exceptions. 

"And the Supreme Court has laid out a series of factors to determine whether a particular case is one of those extremely rare cases," said Alonzo.

He said the prosecutors are not making a case-by-case determination, using the factors required by the Supreme Court.

"All we are asking for is that the prosecutors do what the Supreme Court says that they're supposed to do," said Alonzo, "which is consider the factors that the Supreme Court has laid out in Miller and in Montgomery and apply those factors and recognize that life without parole sentences should be sought only in the extremely rare cases where the juvenile offender has made clear that he or she is irreparably corrupt, and that that's simply not the case clearly with any of our plaintiffs."

The lawsuit asks the court to order the four prosecutors to withdraw their motions for renewed life without parole sentences and to "engage in a good faith, individualized analysis of each prisoner's case," or to order a special master to review all the prosecutors' pending motions.

Alonzo said the plaintiffs are not asking for a slap on the wrist. He said they have already served long sentences.

"All they are asking for is a chance to not die in prison," said Alonzo. "A chance to demonstrate to a parole board that they are rehabilited and they have served their sentence."

One of the defendants in the lawsuit, John McColgan Jr., the prosecuting attorney for Saginaw County, said he had not yet seen the complaint and had no comment.  

For a more comprehensive look at Michigan's Juvenile Lifers, see Michigan Radio's series.