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January 26, 2017

Michigan Supreme Court to take up intersection of Apprendi and Miller for juve LWOP sentencing

This local article reports on the notable decision of the top court in Michigan to consider the procedures for deciding whether a juvenile murderer may be sentencing to life without parole.  Here is the backstory:

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether a jury or a judge can decided to send youth offenders to prison for life.  The court issued a decision to hear the arguments in the Tia Skinner case Tuesday, the latest decision that could impact youth-lifers across the state.

In August 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled the Yale woman convicted in the 2010 killing of her father and attempted murder of her mother should be sentenced by a jury after a hearing to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the killing reflects "irreparable corruption."

St. Clair County Prosecutor Mike Wendling challenged that ruling and asked the Supreme Court to intervene. He said the defense's argument is that a life sentence to a child is the same as a death penalty, which requires a jury to decide. "It's not the same as being put to death," Wendling said.

During the same period, a different panel from the court of appeals ruled a judge should be the one to decide on a life sentence in a juvenile case out of Genesee County. Because of the conflicting rulings, a special conflict panel was assembled by the court of appeals, and in July it ruled judges should handle the re-sentencings.

The legalities of how to re-sentence youth offenders follows the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that automatic life sentences to those under 18 constituted cruel and unusual punishment. That decision impacts four St. Clair County cases — Skinner, Raymond Carp, Michael Hills and Jimmy Porter....

If a jury is required to set the sentence, Wendling said his office will have to decide if the Skinner, Porter and Hills cases can be successfully recreated for a jury. He said victims and family will also weigh on that decision.

As the title of this post suggests, I think it is more the Apprendi line of jurisprudence than capital jurisprudence that really serves as a basis for contending a jury must make the key finding to permit a juve LWOP sentence. For complicated reasons, I do not think Apprendi must or even should be interpreted to impact Miller-required re-sentencings, but I can understand why some may be inclined to apply Apprendi and Miller this way.

January 26, 2017 at 01:28 AM | Permalink


wow this is very helpful article


Posted by: max | Jan 26, 2017 2:15:14 AM

"For complicated reasons, I do not think Apprendi must or even should be interpreted to impact Miller-required re-sentencings."

Can you elaborate a bit?

Posted by: justme | Jan 26, 2017 8:08:42 AM

There is a lot of discussion out there about sentencing factors vs. elements in capital cases. This case is an example of how those discussions are likely to creep into juvenile lwop. Miller and Montgomery clearly hold that a state may not make juvenile lwop mandatory but may still impose juvenile lwop. The issue is whether the discussion in Miller and Montgomery merely identify the types of things which the sentencer should consider (which would probably not trigger Apprendi) or establish certain facts that must be found before an lwop sentence can be imposed (potentially de facto elements under Apprendi, Ring, and Hurst).

Posted by: tmm | Jan 26, 2017 10:41:25 AM

tmm, thanks for your thoughts. Did Miller and Montgomery have any dicta that would lead anyone to think that the Apprendi would be implicated?

Posted by: justme | Jan 26, 2017 12:25:32 PM

Miller sounded more like sentencing factors -- things that the sentencer should consider. Montgomery's assertion that Miller bars lwop for most juvenile offenders and only permits lwop if the offense demonstrates "permanent incorrigibility" arguably is drifting into the area of "eligibility criteria." Slip opinion at 16-18. However, in other places, Montgomery refers to the considerations as sentencing factors. The lower court opinion was issued before Montgomery. Its analysis depends, in part, on the structure of the Michigan sentencing scheme (only permitting lwop if the State files a motion seeking lwop) which it views as creating a default assumption that juvenile defendants are ineligible for lwop -- thereby making the additional findings necessary to the juvenile receiving lwop. The dissent takes the opposite view -- that all juvenile murderers are eligible for lwop -- and that the Miller factors merely guide the court's exercise of its sentencing discretion.

You have seen similar disputes in the post-Hurst death penalty decisions in Alabama, Delaware, and Florida with some judges and attorneys reading the state law as requiring additional findings beyond statutory aggravating circumstances before death can be imposed and other judges viewing the statutory provisions related to weighing the evidence as merely establishing sentencing factors. (These three states had treated the jury's sentencing decision as advisory. Other states have similar provisions with binding jury verdicts, but do not require proof beyond reasonable doubt at the weighing stage.)

Posted by: tmm | Jan 26, 2017 1:07:42 PM

I see, so it comes down to whether "permanent incorrigibility" must be determined by a jury as a sentencing enhancement or whether that is merely a sentencing factor that may be determined by a judge.

Thanks for the clarification.

Posted by: justme | Jan 26, 2017 2:07:22 PM

Just me please read Scalia concurrence in Ring v Arizona. It will become clear

Posted by: Bruce Cunningham | Jan 27, 2017 9:13:34 AM

I do remember Ring and so permanent incorrigibility should be an element of the offense?

Posted by: justme | Jan 27, 2017 10:36:34 AM

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