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juvenile lifers

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Michigan prosecutors are continuing their resistance to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issue of juvenile life sentences without parole.

The Supreme Court already ruled that denying parole to juvenile lifers is unconstitutional, except in the rarest of cases.

The ACLU is suing Michigan over the state's vague standards for denying parole to juvenile lifers.

Daniel Korobkin, the Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU of Michigan, says the state is being stubborn in terms of following the Supreme Court’s decision.

flickr user Joe Gratz / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A man sentenced to automatic life in prison as a juvenile could get that sentence reinstated, even though decades of his court files are missing.

That’s what a Wayne County Circuit Court judge has ruled.

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Charles Lewis was convicted of murder and sentenced to automatic life without parole in 1977, when he was 17.

That makes him a so-called “juvenile lifer.” And the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled all juvenile lifers are entitled to a shot at parole or re-sentencing, except in the “rarest” cases.

Michigan Dept of Corrections

DETROIT (AP) - Workers have been paid overtime to search for a missing court file as a man seeks a new sentence in the death of an off-duty Detroit police officer.

  For nearly 40 years, Charles Lewis has been serving a no-parole sentence for the death of Gerald Swyitkowski. But Lewis was 17 at the time of the shooting and now is entitled to a hearing to determine if he'll be eligible for parole.

  But Wayne County authorities can't find the court file from the 1976 case. Lewis' attorney, Valerie Newman, says it's "impossible" to represent him without the records.

Charles Lewis at a hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A Detroit man sentenced to life without parole for a 1977 murder is entitled to a new sentence.

But efforts just to start that process have stalled again because of missing court files.

Charles Lewis was only 17 when he was convicted in the robbery-murder of an off-duty Detroit police officer.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in two recent cases that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional, except in the “rarest” cases.

Lewis is one of more than 300 Michigan “juvenile lifers” now awaiting re-sentencing, which should mean at least a shot at parole.

Charles Lews
Michigan Department of Corrections

A 59-year-old Detroit man convicted of murder at age 17 deserves a new sentence, his supporters argued Tuesday before a hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Charles Lewis is one of 367 “juvenile lifers” in Michigan — prisoners who were sentenced to automatic life without parole as minors.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently ruled that unconstitutional in most cases, and ordered juvenile lifers a meaningful chance at meaningful parole. 

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More than 360 Michigan inmates have been dealt a setback.

The prisoners were all sentenced to automatic life without parole as teenagers. The U.S. Supreme Court says that's unconstitutional.

So local prosecutors were set to re-sentence those Michigan inmates. 

Attorneys for those prisoners objected. They worried local prosecutors would routinely seek life without parole during re-sentencing, and argued the Supreme Court decision should prevent that.

But Judge John Corbett O'Meara disagreed.

Derek Key / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard is warning against the possible release of some convicted teenage killers, saying it could spark an “unparalleled deadly crime spree.”

The US Supreme Court has ordered states to re-sentence all people sent to prison for mandatory life without parole as juveniles, saying that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

According to Moran, the statistics prove that African Americans are more likely to be wrongfully convicted than white people.
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 You might remember the story in the news recently that told of the release of a young man who had been sentenced to life without parole.

Davontae Sanford was convicted and sentenced at age 14 for four murders. The courts recently found he was wrongfully convicted.

In 2012 the Supreme Court banned the use of mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles. 

But that doesn't mean it's completely banned.

Derek Key / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A federal appeals court says Michigan is not complying with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down prison sentences of automatic life without parole for juveniles.

The Supreme Court ruled four years ago that the practice amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Attorney Deborah LaBelle says the state is still not allowing juvenile lifers a meaningful chance at parole.

Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Legislation to keep many 17-year-olds from going to adult prisons cleared a state House panel on Tuesday.

Michigan is one of only a handful of states that automatically prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults. The bills would end that practice.

People under 18 could still go to adult prisons for violent crimes such as murder.

  

State Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit, is leading the effort. He says it’s one of the most important criminal justice initiatives moving forward in the country.

flickr user Joe Gratz / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Thanks to an opinion handed down Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court, some 350 Michigan prison inmates woke up today with a new view on life.

In a six-to-three decision, the High Court ruled that all prisoners who have been sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as minors should be given a chance to seek parole.

Deborah LaBelle is an Ann Arbor-based attorney and director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative with the ACLU.

Back in 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools, the old “separate but equal” notion, was unconstitutional.

 Now what would have happened if after that ruling, some state attorney general in Mississippi had argued: “Well, we understand that applies to the future, but we’ve got some schools that were segregated before that ruling, and they should stay that way.”

Prison wall
Microsoft Images

More than 300 Michigan inmates sentenced as minors to life without parole could get a second chance at early release. That’s under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling handed down Monday.

In 2012, the court ruled that sentencing minors to mandatory life in prison without the chance for parole was cruel and unusual. But it left it up to states to decide whether people sentenced before then should get resentencing hearings. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled they shouldn’t.

But now the U.S. Supreme Court says all so-called juvenile lifers should be able to argue for early release.

Michigan Supreme Court

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss a new report saying a quarter of Michigan homeowners are still underwater on their mortgages, Republican congressional candidate David Trott’s rough week and the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision not to reconsider parole hearings for juvenile lifers.


The week in Michigan politics

Jul 9, 2014
Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

This Week in Michigan Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss Michigan's ruling on how juvenile lifers will not get a chance at parole, pay raises for city leaders in bankrupt Detroit, and what role Michigan could play in housing undocumented minors crossing the Mexico border.

There is a long-established principle that whenever state law conflicts with a federal law, the federal law prevails. That’s been established by a long string of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, plus a little event called the Civil War.  

This is why, for example, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes could rule that the pensions of Detroit city workers and retirees could be cut, even though Michigan’s state constitution says they can’t be. Federal bankruptcy law prevails.

If this weren’t the case, it would mean that anything Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court did could be overruled by any state legislature, and our nation would become no more than a collection of 50 countries united in name only.

That’s something we all learned in civics class -- which makes the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision yesterday on life sentences for minors completely baffling.

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to automatically sentence juveniles to life without the possibility of parole. However, some politicians who want to be seen as tough on crime, claimed this decision was not retroactive.

And yesterday, in a four to three vote, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed with them. The justices ruled that minors who were sentenced in Michigan to life without the possibility of parole still have no chance of a hearing – if they were sentenced before the nation’s highest court’s ruling.

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The Michigan Supreme Court says felons sentenced as juveniles to life without parole won’t get new sentences.

That’s despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says it’s cruel and unusual punishment.

The question was whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. Alabama applies retroactively in Michigan to more than 300 inmates sentenced as juveniles to life without parole, or if it only applies to future cases.

A four-to-three majority on the state Supreme Court says it would present too many financial and logistical barriers to go back and find lost witnesses and evidence for new sentencing hearings.

The Miller decision says mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional because they don’t take into account each child’s circumstances.

States have split on how to handle the Miller decision, which suggests the issue could yet be headed back one day to the U.S. Supreme Court.

LisaW123 / Flickr

The state Senate has approved a plan to fix and maintain roads being ripped apart by brutal winter weather. The Senate passed a mid-year budget bill Thursday that includes $100 million of emergency money for roads.

The state Department of Transportation and local governments have been constantly running snow plows, spreading salt, and patching potholes. That means they’re looking at huge winter budget overages.

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Sixteen-year-old Matelyn Sarosi wasn't building snow men or sipping hot chocolate during her recent snow days. Instead, she was drafting an 18-page legal document calling for a chance at parole for Michigan prison inmates sentenced to mandatory life in prison for crimes they committed before the age of 18. 

According to the Detroit Free Press, Father Gabriel Richard Catholic High School student Sarosi explained her motives behind her brief to the Michigan Supreme Court, which was submitted on Friday. 

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

More Michiganders signing up for health care than expected

"About 112,000 Michigan residents chose a private insurance plan under the federal health care law through January, outpacing what was projected in a government memo last summer," the Associated Press reports.

Juvenile lifer sentencing rules head to the governor's desk

"Michigan lawmakers have given final approval to new sentencing rules after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life imprisonment for juveniles. The bills now head to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. The legislation applies to future cases and not retroactively to more than 350 Michigan inmates under 18 when they committed crimes," the Associated Press reports.

Lowest amount of money spent on roads in the U.S.: Michigan

"Michigan spends less money per capita on our roads and bridges than any other state in the nation. We spent just $154 dollars per person, according to the 2010 Census," Michigan Radio reports.

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Michigan’s Attorney General has decided to appeal a federal judge’s order that would require parole hearings for more than 300 juvenile offenders serving life sentences.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that sentencing juvenile offenders to automatic life without parole constituted “cruel and unusual” punishment. 

 CORRECTION: The headline was changed to avoid an inadvertent pun.

There are about 350 in Michigan who screwed up badly when they were teenagers. Most took part in murders. All are serving life without the possibility of parole.

Some of these young killers are probably vicious psychopaths who should never be allowed back into society. Others, however, were scared and stupid kids who, in some cases, did nothing except be there when an older friend, or, in a number of cases, a boyfriend, committed some terrible crime.

But they were all sentenced under Michigan law to life without the possibility of parole, and two years ago, you could have said, that was that. Except that isn’t the law anymore.

Seventeen months ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that laws automatically requiring a life sentence without the possibility of parole for kids under 18 are unconstitutional.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Judge John O'Meara's order says the state has until January 31st to send him a plan for how it plans to deal with those inmates sentenced as juveniles to life in prison.

It must ensure every inmate sentenced to mandatory life as a juvenile has a "fair, meaningful, and realistic" opportunity for parole.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette has argued a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Michigan's juvenile lifer law and others like it should only apply to current and future cases.

Schuette could try to appeal Judge O'Meara's order.

Flickr user Still Burning / Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the state's juvenile lifer law applies retroactively to more than 300 inmates. The question is whether those inmates are entitled to parole hearings or if the decision only applies to current and future cases. 

The U.S. Supreme Court decision still allows life-without-parole sentences for minors. But it said courts have to hold hearings to decide whether there are circumstances like abuse or neglect, or whether a defendant was coerced into committing the crime.

The Michigan Supreme Court has also agreed to decide another question: whether minors convicted of assisting in a murder can be given life-without-parole sentences at all. The question is whether that violates the state constitution.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Legislation to overhaul Michigan’s juvenile lifer law would not apply to inmates already sentenced as teenagers to life without parole.

The bills were adopted today by the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

The legislation is required because the U.S. Supreme Court struck down automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.

James Sorenson lost his son in 2007 to a teenaged murderer.    He says any rewrite of the law should put the interests of the victims’ families ahead of teenagers who participated in a murder.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan lawmakers attempting to respond to a ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional have hit a stalemate that threatens to derail any progress.

They can't agree on whether last year's Supreme Court decision last year applies retroactively to the roughly 360 Michigan inmates who were under 18 when they committed crimes.

Rick Pluta / MPRN

Families of murder victims were among those who packed a legislative hearing room today. The hearing was on how to fix Michigan’s juvenile lifer law to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The court held that automatic life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette showed up for the hearing. He says the law should only apply to future cases, and not to the roughly 350 inmates already sentenced as juveniles to life without parole for first degree murder.

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Schuette will challenge re-sentencing for juvenile lifers

A federal judge says the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down automatic life sentences without parole applies to 363 inmates in Michigan. The judge says the ruling applies to every inmate sentenced as a child and entitles them to re-sentencing hearings. Attorney General Bill Schuette wants the ruling applied to only five Michigan inmates who challenged their cases in federal court, and to future cases. The American Civil Liberties Union disagrees and says the ruling applies to everyone affected. Rick Pluta has more.

U of M research shows association between autism and induced labor

“New University of Michigan research has found an association between autism and inducing or augmenting labor during childbirth. Researchers looked at the birth records of more than 600 thousand children and compared them to the children’s school records. They found a 35 percent increased chance of autism in boys whose mothers’ had their labor induced or augmented. Marie Lynn Miranda, a Pediatrics professor at U of M, says the data is worth further study, but it does not draw a direct link between inducing labor and autism,” Michigan Radio’s Steve Carmody reports.

Lansing wants to cut ties with Russian sister city

“Officials in Lansing want to end their community's 'sister cities' relationship with the Russian city of St. Petersburg due to that country's anti-gay policies. The Lansing State Journal and MLive.com report Lansing City Council voted unanimously Monday calling for end to the relationship. A new Russian law is aimed at 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.' It imposes fines for organizations, plus stiffer penalties for propaganda online or in the media,” according to the Associated Press.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A federal judge says 363 inmates in Michigan prisons sentenced to life without parole as juveniles should get parole hearings.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that laws like Michigan’s that automatically send some juveniles to prison for life with no chance of parole are “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette has been trying to limit the scope of the ruling to five inmates who challenged their sentences and to all future cases. He says families of murder victims deserved the certainty of knowing those sentences would stand.

Advocates say juvenile prisoners are at risk

Mar 12, 2013
flickr user FatMandy / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan is one of 25 states that allow convicted teens, under the age of 18, to be imprisoned with adults.

Attorney Deborah LaBelle is a juvenile justice advocate with the ACLU. She estimates nearly 200,000 children have been abused in adult prisons. LaBelle recently returned from Washington, D.C. where the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights conducted a hearing on this issue with representatives from the U.S. State Department. The hearing focused on the physical, sexual, and psychological abuse experienced by children when housed with adults in prisons.

"In addition to the physical and psychological harm that's going on, putting children in the adult facilitates also results in them losing the very two things that makes them children: education and contact with their family and parents," LaBelle said in this interview with Jennifer White.

You can listen to the full interview above.

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