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Michigan Supreme Court will determine whether judges or juries should sentence juvenile lifers

Jan 25, 2017

The Michigan Supreme Court says it will settle whether juries - instead of judges - have the sole power to decide whether someone under 18 gets life in prison without parole.

If the Court decides to give the sentencing power to juries, the juries would have to make a specific determination that the convicted had no hope of being rehabilitated and deserved a no-parole sentence.

In an order released Wednesday, the court will take the case of Tia Skinner, who was a 17-year-old honors student in St. Clair County when she plotted to have her father killed in 2010.

Skinner is serving a no-parole sentence, and has served five and a half years in prison.

The order is the latest in a series of changes to how juveniles can be sentenced in Michigan, which has one of the highest numbers of juvenile lifers in the country.

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In 2012, the United States Supreme Court determined that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional, and in 2016 the ruling was made retroactive.

In Michigan, reexamining the cases of juvenile lifers has been slow going, to the objections of many rights groups, including the ACLU.

Many arguments have been made about whether a judge or a jury should be sentencing juvenile cases. The court in 2016 created a special panel, which said the sentencing duty rests with trial judges.

For more in depth information on this legal question, we spoke with Tia Skinner's attorney, U of M law professor Kimberly Thomas, for our series "Michigan's Juvenile Lifers." You can find more about the series below.