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February 5, 2014

Michigan legislature nearing enactment of Miller fix without retroactivity

As reported in this AP article, headlined "Mich. House OKs Sentencing Rules For Young Killers," a state that has imposed LWOP on a very large number of juvenile murderers is getting close to revising its laws in response to the Supreme Court's constitutional concerns with mandating this punishment.  Here are the details:

Young killers could no longer be sentenced to mandatory life without parole under legislation nearing final approval in Michigan, but those now incarcerated for crimes committed under age 18 would stay locked up despite pleas for a second look.

The Republican-controlled state House voted 62-48 Tuesday, mostly along party lines, to approve the new sentencing rules, 19 months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory no-parole sentences for juveniles. The Senate is expected to send the bill to Gov. Rick Snyder; it approved an earlier version in the fall.

The Supreme Court’s June 2012 decision – based on the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment – is silent on retroactivity, and courts across the country have been divided ever since on the issue. It is especially relevant in Michigan, home to around 360 juvenile lifers, the second-highest number in the U.S.

House Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Kurt Heise said he wishes the high court had settled the retroactivity question, but lawmakers put guidelines in place in case it does in the future. The bill includes a “trigger” so prisoners now behind bars would be resentenced if the U.S. Supreme Court or Michigan Supreme Court determines the 2012 ruling should apply retroactively....

Juveniles can still be sentenced to life without parole after the high court’s decision. The sentence just cannot be mandatory on judges, who also must consider factors such as defendants’ immaturity, rehabilitation chances, family and home environment, peer pressures and inability as youths to navigate possible plea deals.

If Michigan juveniles charged as adults commit first-degree murder or other serious crimes causing death and do not receive life without parole, judges would have to sentence them to a minimum of at least 25 years and a maximum of at least 60 years under the bill....

It is estimated that 150 prisoners serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles were accomplices, not the actual killers.

Over objections from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara in November directed the state to give juvenile lifers an opportunity to apply for release or face the appointment of a special master to oversee the process. His ruling was appealed.

Jody Robinson’s brother was killed by a 16-year-old and 20-year-old in Pontiac in 1990, and she later co-founded the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers. “This legislation will not only put Michigan laws in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court, but it also gives victims’ families the hope that legal finality is a possibility and the nightmare of repeatedly reliving their loved one’s murder may soon come to an end,” Robinson said in a statement released by Schuette’s office.

February 5, 2014 at 08:34 AM | Permalink


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The Michigan Supreme Court is presently considering three cases dealing with the juvenile-LWOP issue, one for pre-Miller defendants, one for aiders-and-abettors who did not do the killing, and one for post-Miller defendants.

Posted by: Greg Jones | Feb 5, 2014 2:41:57 PM

Sorry, but this legislation reflects some really weak reasoning. I understand the legal technicalities regarding retroactive application, but from a plain justice standpoint, how can it be that if automatic LWOP sentences are wrong going forward, those already in prison should not have a chance to have their cases heard? If victims' families don't have complete "closure," that is unfortunate but should not be determinative. Our criminal justice system is not all about the victim families. And it is a shame that the more vindictive among that population get more regard than more sophisticated, thoughtful, and, frankly, compassionate, victims' families. Anyone who thinks that a juvenile defender should have no hope of gaining release -- albeit after many years of incarceration -- is not thinking very critically (or their logical reasoning ability is overwhelmed by their devastating loss), and their views should not carry so much weight in the lawmaking process. Is it really too much to ask victim families' to attend parole hearings -- or not if that is their choice? What is our society's problem with this issue. It would be a no brainer in just about every other Western country. Of course, the possibility of parole is appropriate, at least for juveniles, and likely for many adult offenders also.

Posted by: Mark | Feb 5, 2014 3:23:13 PM

Hmmmm lessee, because 5 lawless Justices get together to impose some BS on the rest of us, the Michigan legislature isn't allowed to minimize the damage? Ok, gotcha.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 5, 2014 10:36:05 PM


Where is the BS? You really think automatic LWOP for juveniles is not crazy. The fact remans, what in the world does the legislature think it's doing? Why such harsh views that are so out of line with practice anywhere else in the civilized world. You don't seem to have any answers to that fundamental question.

Posted by: Mark | Feb 5, 2014 10:45:38 PM


Given that I believe that even Roper (ruling that juveniles are categorically ineligible for the death penalty) was wrong I certainly do not see anything crazy in mandatory LWOP for juveniles, whether the crime be murder or some lesser offense. The only thing I believe that the 8th amendment protects against is actually tortuous punishments along the lines of drawing and quartering and the like. I see it saying absolutely nothing about what offenses make one eligible for criminal punishment.

I believe that SCOTUS has been lawless on the subject for at least the entire era of working from evolving standards of a maturing society and possibly long, I am simply not familiar enough with court action prior to that point to have any opinion on the matter. I actually think an 8th amendment challenge to a state using the electric chair or cyanide based gas chambers (if any state were to return to such methods of execution) would be on far firmer constitutional territory than any challenge as to who is eligible for punishment.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 6, 2014 2:46:32 AM

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