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November 14, 2012

Brewing "Miller fix" for juvenile murder sentencing in Michigan

As reported in this new local piece, headlined "Juvenile lifers: Michigan lawmakers quietly propose new sentencing hearings, possibility of parole," legislators in a state up north are getting to work on a response to the Supreme Court's Miller ruling making mandatory LWOP unconstitutional for juve murderers.  Here are the details:

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers has quietly introduced a series of bills that would redefine the way juvenile murder convicts are sentenced in Michigan and provide current inmates with a chance at parole.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that sentencing minors to life in prison without the possibility of parole is an unconstitutional form of cruel and unusual punishment, prompting calls for legislative action in Michigan and other states with mandatory sentencing guidelines that apply to juvenile offenders.

House Bills 6013-6019 were introduced last week during the opening days of the state Legislature's lame-duck session, which may be busy, and will need to be reintroduced if they are not passed by the end of the year.  "Similar packages of legislation have been introduced before but in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Miller v. Alabama in June, now is the time to address mandatory sentences here in Michigan," state Rep. Mark Meadows, D-Lansing, said in a statement Tuesday.

Michigan is home to more than 350 inmates serving mandatory life sentences without parole for serious crimes they committed as minors.

HB 6014, sponsored by Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, would give the state parole board jurisdiction over juvenile lifers who already have served at least 15 years for crimes they committed before age 16 or at least 20 years for crimes they committed between ages 16 and 18.  The bill directs the parole board to consider mitigating circumstances -- including accomplices, emotional state, family life and prior criminal records -- in determining whether the offender should be granted release....

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, in a written opinion for the 5-4 majority, did not explicitly state whether the high court ruling applies to offenders already serving mandatory sentence.  Reformers believe it does and some states have accepted that position.  Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette argues it is not retroactive.

The Michigan Court of Appeals heard arguments for resentencing last month and may still decide the retroactivity issue.  But Appeals Court Judge Michael J. Talbot expressed a reluctance to legislate from the bench, urging lawmakers to rework state laws in anticipation of pending and future cases.

HB 6015, also sponsored by Haveman, allows prosecuting attorneys in future cases to request a post-trial hearing to determine whether juvenile offenders convicted of serious crimes should be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole or life with the possibility of parole.  The legislation also allows prosecuting attorneys or prisoners currently serving mandatory terms to request similar resentencing hearings, at which judges must consider mitigating factors.

November 14, 2012 at 06:54 PM | Permalink

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