Michigan Courts Drag Their Feet on Complying with Supreme Court Ruling

September 23, 2019, 11:28 am

In 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders were unconstitutional. In 2016 they ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana that their prior decision should be applied retroactively to juvenile offenders already sentenced to life. At the time of the ruling, Michigan had the second highest number of juvenile offenders serving life next to Pennsylvania. We also had an Attorney General (Bill Schutte) who determined to fight tooth and nail against the ruling of the highest court in the land. 

Today, three-and-a-half years after the Montgomery ruling, Michigan has only re sentenced less than half of its juvenile lifers. By contrast, Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia County, which had almost as many juvenile lifers as all of Michigan, has re sentenced nearly all of their juvenile lifers. The difference lies primarily in the approach Michigan has taken to conform to the Supreme Court ruling. 

In its recognition that juvenile brains are not fully developed, the Miller decision required courts to consider five factors when re sentencing juvenile lifers. These are:
1. The circumstances of the homicide
2. Environmental vulnerabilities the offender faced at the time of the crime
3. Evidence around rehabilitation
4. Information around the original case (i.e., an offender’s ability to interact with law enforcement, and how his attorney handled his case)
5. The age of the defendant at the time of the crime

Unfortunately, some prosecutors are heavily weighing some factors while virtually ignoring others, contrary to the Court’s intentions. To be fair, every case is unique and requires a close look to determine a proper sentence when re sentencing these offenders. But Michigan prosecutors have requested continuation of life sentences for two-thirds of its juvenile lifers. This hardly comports with the intention of our country’s highest court. 

Part of the reason for such a high request for continued life sentences is that the Michigan legislature made it impossible for prosecutors to modify their requests from a term of years to life if evidence pointed in that direction. Instead, prosecutors are only able to modify their recommended sentence down from life to a term of years. Consequently, many juvenile offenders are waiting, many of them for years past the date they could be released, for Michigan’s courts to move on re sentencing them. 

Re sentencing hundreds of defendants takes time, but Michigan needs to stop dragging its feet. It’s not fair to the defendants, and it’s not fair to the families of their victim. While the Supreme Court’s ruling finally brought sentencing laws (concerning juveniles subject to life sentences) into line with science, victims’ families face uncertainty. They have a reasonable expectation of finality, and it is unfair for the Michigan courts to be dragging their feet on re sentencing these offenders. 

Because science has shown that juvenile brains are not fully developed, it’s reasonable for our society to expect that kids who commit terrible crimes are able to positively change. As the Miller decision clarified, it should only be the rare  juvenile offender, who has shown no ability to positively change, who is re sentenced to life in prison. Instead, Michigan continues to thumb its nose at the Supreme Court. Something’s got to change.

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Author: hopeontheinside.blogspot.com
The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.

The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.