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March 5, 2014

Michigan enacts Miller fix for current and future cases, just as its Justices are to consider past cases

As reported in this local article, headlined "Gov. Rick Snyder signs 'juvenile lifer' update as old cases head to Michigan Supreme Court," the Great Lakes State is busy this week working through all the fall-out from the U.S. Supreme Court's Miller Eighth Amendment ruling.  Here are some of the details:

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday signed legislation updating state sentencing guidelines in the wake of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed mandatory life terms without the possibility of parole for minors....

Senate Bill 319, sponsored by state Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), changes Michigan law for all pending and future cases involving juvenile defendants convicted of first-degree murder, felony murder or certain repeat sexual assault offenses. Instead of handing down mandatory life sentences in those cases, judges can also consider a term of between 25 and 60 years. Prosecutors may still file a request for a natural life sentence, but judges now have new authority to consider other options....

Michigan is home to some 360 juvenile lifers -- more than all but one other state -- but the new law will not have an immediate impact on most inmates already behind bars.  The U.S. Supreme Court, in banning mandatory life sentences for minors, did not indicate whether the ruling should apply retroactively.  The new law contains a "trigger" for resentencing hearings in case of a future court ruling.

The Michigan Supreme Court is set to consider the "retroactivity" question on Thursday, when justices are scheduled to hear oral arguments in three juvenile lifer cases. Two of the offenders, Raymond Carp and Cortez Davis, have exhausted the traditional appeals process but are seeking resentencing.

The third, Dakotah Eliason, is entitled to resentencing because his case is still on appeal, but his attorneys disputed the limited relief offered by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which told a sentencing judge to consider only two options: life with or without the possibility of parole. Michigan's new law, which also allows for a term of years less than life, makes that particular issue moot.  The Eliason case asks the Michigan Supreme Court to consider other issues as well, however, so it's unclear how oral arguments will proceed.

It may be just coincidence that the Michigan legislature got a Miller fix enacted into law just before the Michigan Supreme Court considers retroactive application of Miller to past cases. But I have to think the Michigan Supreme Court might feel (consciously or unconsciously) at least a bit more comfortable concluding that Miller applies retroactively now that the state has a new sentencing scheme for juve murderers on the books.

Michigan media has been covering the Miller application/litigation story quite effectively in the run up to the state's Supreme Court hearing, and here are the headline links to some of the coverage in the last few weeks:

March 5, 2014 at 10:40 PM | Permalink


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All released murderers to a halfway house on the street where criminal lover Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) lives.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 6, 2014 9:09:43 AM

Supremacy Claus,

Have you absolutely no belief that those under 18 can be rehabilitated? In other words: at least 30 years is just not enough, for anyone convicted of murder under the age of 18? Do you really believe that? How in the world can you say, sitting here today, that none of those convicted will be good candidates for release decades down the road? And, it is of course, no answer for your side to say that some mistakes could be made in a parole decisions. The same is obviously true for all sentencing decisions.

Your opinions are grounded in neither empirics, theory, nor, frankly, and sense of human decency. Frankly, it is hard to see why there should be LWOP sentence, for either juveniles or non-juveniles. Circumstances change, and it is only good science and logic to allow the system to take that into account. It is a shame that you Bill Otis, Federalist, and the like, all apparently smart people, seem bent on standing with the know-nothings and against logical reasoning.

Posted by: Mark | Mar 6, 2014 12:34:22 PM

Mark: As a generality, 2 things to reassure you.

1) I believe in 123D. Under that scheme, a murderer may go home after conviction, at any age. So, I am way ahead of you in releasing low risk murderers.

2) All mitigating factors so far are lawyer lies. Insanity, MR, young age, veteran status, abuse victim, drug addiction. They are in the real world, aggravating factors, making the person a larger threat. These populations have lower risk of violence, so the convicted felon with these features deviates farther from the that group and represents a greater risk than other offenders. These features should prompt a rush to execution. Adolescents have a low crime rate. They also outperform adults on every measure of brain function you care to name. They are immature only from lack of world responsibility, and the infantilizing effects of high school. For 10,000 years, adulthood began at puberty or 14. So we are speaking of really adults.

3) I oppose punishment, and support only incapacitation as a goal of the criminal law. Death is not a punishment. It is an expulsion, after having gone too far to remain in our world.

To the extent you support the goal of retribution, coming from the Bible, and violating the Establishment Clause, and being worthless (see the 20 million FBI index crimes still committed yearly), you will support Miller. To the extent, you favor public safety as the sole aim of the criminal law, and Job One and Job Last of government, you will oppose Miller.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 6, 2014 4:12:17 PM


I would agree that some percentage of juvenile murderers could rehabilitate themselves, I would even concede that the percent may be well in excess of half. However I put the balance of risk weighing against those same murderers. We, as society, should simply not have to bear the risk of any repeat act by someone who has already demonstrated a willingness to perform unlawful homicide (actually I see that being true even for crimes as minor as thefts in the couple hundred dollar range, but we are talking about juvenile homicide here so am setting that desire aside).

I would actually prefer to execute most of them (at least so long as we are talking about someone older than perhaps twelve or thirteen), which would surely eliminate the problem of locking them away for fifty or sixty years.

I see rehabilitation as a nice thing but not as something society has any duty to offer to any felony offender.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 7, 2014 1:52:56 AM

Soronel --

Thoughtful commentary. But why would you disallow the possibility of particular offenders showing that they are good risks, even if there are others that we would want to keep incarcerated to avoid the risk of reoffending? Isn't hearing out invidual circumstances a more finely nuanced tool than a blanket rule? Frankly, the same should go for adult offenders as well. It is only good decisionmaking practice. Indeed, if your logic is correct, wouldn't it also be the case that, say, all armed robbers or burglers should be imprisoned for life because we surely run some risk that some will re-offend.

Imprisoning people is not costless in all kinds of way, why put such a heavy thumb on the scale of avoiding all risk? And why are you such a big fan of execution, is it because you think it is cost effective? It is actually not. Seems to me, the criminal justice system in this country has a lot of irrational exceptionalism relative to other nations, and it is awfully hard to justify as an economic or moral matter. When I discuss our system with European friends, the question is always why does the United States have both so aberationally harsh sentencing practices and such a high rate of violent crime relative to peer countries. Most in the United States don't seem to examine these issues deeply, they just take it as a given. It may be because non-experts and the under-educated have more influence in this country than in others. It just doesn't add up, and is very hard to reconcile.

Posted by: Mark | Mar 7, 2014 12:59:12 PM


I put such a heavy thumb against the offender because US society really doesn't ask very much of its members. When those rules are violated a severe response is warranted. Like SC I don't see it being punishment so much as expulsion. We, as society, should simply have the option of expelling those who have demonstrated they don't want to play nice with others.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 7, 2014 4:32:59 PM

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