juvenile offenders

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Bill Schuette / Facebook.com

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says hundreds of juveniles sentenced to life without parole for murder or complicity in a murder should not get re-sentencing hearings.

Schuette says a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Michigan’s mandatory life without parole law for juveniles should only apply to future cases. He has asked the state Supreme Court to limit the scope of the federal decision.

Randy Wood is a spokesman for the attorney general. He says Schuette believes re-sentencing hearings would be a mistake.

There is some question on the reach of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.

Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office says it may only apply going forward and not to the 366 juvenile lifers currently serving in Michigan prisons.

Dawn Van Hoek directs the State Appellate Defender Office, which represents some of the juvenile lifers. She disagrees and said every juvenile sentenced to life without parole should get a new hearing.

“I think they’ve already signaled, the Supreme Court has, and, you know, you have to wonder why even bother if you’re not going to apply it to the hundreds of people who were affected nationwide by these unconstitutional laws,” said Van Hoek.

That would also require the state to track down the families of murder victims who have a right under Michigan law to testify at sentencing hearings.

The U.S. Supreme Court
User kconnors / MorgueFile.com

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning struck down state laws that allow juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. The ruling says life without parole for crimes that occurred when a felon was younger than 18 is excessive and violates the Eighth Amendment.

Michigan is one of several states that allowed juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole. The state has more than 350 people in state prisons serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles.

U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders violates the Constitution's Eighth Amendment (the ban on cruel and unusual punishment).

The ruling has big ramifications on Michigan. The state has one of the highest populations of juvenile offenders serving life sentences---358 out of about 2,500 nationwide.

The ACLU sued the state of Michigan back in 2010. Their press release at the time said the United States is the only country in the world that sentences young people to life without the possibility of parole:

....and Michigan incarcerates the second highest number of people serving life sentences without parole for crimes committed when they were 17 years old or younger. Currently, there are 350 individuals serving such mandatory life sentences in Michigan.

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court drew from two previous cases---one banning the death penalty for youth offenders and the other outlawing life without parole for juveniles in non-homicide cases.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, said that those previous cases establish that "chil­dren are constitutionally different from adults for sentencing purposes. Their 'lack of maturity' and 'underdeveloped sense of responsibility'  lead to recklessness, impulsivity, and heedless risk-taking."

user FatMandy / flickr

Teen offenders in Michigan are worse off than teens in other states.

That's according to a new report from Michigan-based Second Chances 4 Youth and the state chapter of the ACLU

Reporters were caught off base yesterday when they learned that Governor Rick Snyder was not in Lansing as they thought, but in Afghanistan, visiting the troops. The secrecy was understandably needed for security reasons, and the trip is the sort of morale-boosting thing that governors and other state officials traditionally do.

But it was very telling when the governor reported on what the soldiers wanted to talk about. Besides the surging Detroit Tigers and fading Red Wings, the chief thing on their minds seemed to be jobs.

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.

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