« Looking into the modern state of the private prison industry in the states | Main | "Privatizing Criminal Procedure" »

April 10, 2018

Federal district judge finds Michigan's elimination of good-time credit in Miller fix unconstitutional

As reported in this local article, a "federal judge has ruled a Michigan law violates the constitution by not allowing juvenile lifers to earn good-time and disciplinary credits while in prison." Here is more: 

Following [the Supreme Court's ruling in Miller], the state put into law the ability to sentence child killers to a number of years with a chance of parole. Because that law does not allow those offenders to earn good-time credits, Goldsmith ruled it is unconstitutional and ordered the state calculate good-time and disciplinary credits for those who have already been re-sentenced under that law within 14 days.

“Today’s ruling is a tremendous victory for fairness in our criminal justice system,” Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan Deputy Legal Director and one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in a statement. “Hundreds of youth who were serving unconstitutional life sentences will now benefit from good-time credits they earned in prison for good behavior, credits that were taken away from them by mean-spirited retroactive legislation in 2014.”

There are more than 360 people in the system who were children at the time of their crimes, including four from St. Clair County: Jimmy Porter, Raymond Carp, Michael Hills and Tia Skinner. “Restoring these credits to individuals who earned them will likely save the state millions of dollars, and will give deserving individuals a chance to reunite with their families when they no longer pose a threat to society,” Korobkin said.

The full ruling in Hill v. Snyder, No. 10-cv-14568 (April 9, 2018), is available at this link. Here is how it begins:

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder cannot be subject to mandatory life sentences without parole.  Because of their lesser culpability and greater capacity to change, they must be sentenced under a process that gives them an individualized opportunity to present mitigating circumstances to avert such a harsh sentence.  In response, the Michigan legislature enacted legislation that purported to comply with the Court’s ruling, which included the possibility of being resentenced to prison for a term of years.  However, the legislature provided that in calculating any such sentence, the youth offenders were not to receive any credit -- known as good time or disciplinary credit -- even though such credits were earned while the youth offenders served their illegally imposed sentences.  In that respect, the legislative response ran afoul of our Constitution’s ban on ex post facto laws -- the constitutional guarantee that laws may not retroactively criminalize conduct or enhance the punishment for criminal acts already perpetrated.  For this reason, the Court must declare that provision of the statute unconstitutional and order that the youth offenders receive the credit that they have previously earned.

April 10, 2018 at 08:42 PM | Permalink


This is reminiscent of the Iowa governor's move whereby he commuted all JLWOP sentences to 80+ year sentences. The courts were equally unamused.

Posted by: John | Apr 10, 2018 11:31:47 PM

BS decision---there is no right to good time credits under the old law, and hence no vesting under the new.

Michigan should, of course, appeal, and even if it loses, ignore the courts. Miller needs to be fought with foot-dragging and everything.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 11, 2018 1:10:19 AM

Talking out your other end again fed?
Even the state acknowledges the legally earned credits exist. Why they tried to ilegally take them back once the USSC messed up their plan to allow them to collect useless credits they could never use. Once faced with in mates with who knows have many days, months or years if those credit well they had to do something even if it broke the lsw

Posted by: Rodsmith3510 | Apr 11, 2018 3:51:41 AM

If it was in any circuit not divisible by three, the State would have a solid argument that the courts should look to the over-all sentencing scheme and not its particular parts. If the overall statute lowers the sentence from life to a term of years, it's hard to credibly argue that the fact that the term of years will be served without eligibility for good time credit makes the new sentences longer than or harsher than the old sentence. By way of analogy, if I gave you three fresh apples but took away a rotted apple core, would that be reducing your food supply?

Posted by: tmm | Apr 11, 2018 11:05:11 AM

So, the Third, Sixth and Ninth have different rules here?

I again wonder the reach of this "ignore the courts" rule. And, does it apply to agencies and other bodies if they are really really wrong? Does it just apply to "states"? Can Puerto Rico or Guam ignore the courts when they believe they are really really wrong?

Posted by: Joe | Apr 11, 2018 11:21:09 AM

Fed might say ignore the courts. I'm just noting that the Third, Sixth, and Ninth have a lot of recent history of loosely interpreting Supreme Court precedent and getting slammed for it by the Supreme Court. I think the other circuits (e.g. Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, and Eleventh) would reverse this trial court decision but the Sixth probably will affirm. Whether there is a sufficient likelihood of a grant of certiorari to justify the resouces is for the Michigan Attorney General's Office to decide.

Posted by: tmm | Apr 11, 2018 2:32:24 PM

I'd be curious to know what they're thinking was on this.

federalist, I'm not entirely sure I understand your argument. You said there is no right to good time credit under the old law. Are you saying the old law didn't provide for an opportunity for good time credit or that such credit wasn't a "right"?

Posted by: Erik M | Apr 11, 2018 2:32:42 PM

By definition, juve LWOP didn't have right to parole/good time. So when the law was changed, nothing was taken from them.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 14, 2018 11:09:45 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB