Michigan ranks 2nd highest in the country for juvenile life without parole sentences, with over 360 inmates sentenced to die in prison for crimes they committed when they were children.
Under current Michigan law, a juvenile as young as fourteen can be automatically waived to adult court, convicted, and receive a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole - with no consideration of how age or development may affect cognitive capacity, competency, or culpability for the crime.
But, a recent landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has just changed the way Michigan sentences its youth; Michigan's juvenile sentencing laws have been deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court!
On June 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, that mandatory sentences of life without parole for those under 18 at the time of their crimes violate the Eighth Amendment. The Court reasoned that mandatory penalty schemes are unconstitutional because it prevents sentencers from "considering a juvenile’s lessened culpability and greater capacity for change."
While Miller does not wholly ban the sentence of life without parole for juveniles, it prohibits “removing youth from the balance” and requires an individual assessment of each youth before allowing such severe punishment.
Miller also reemphasizes the fact that juveniles should not be treated like adults. The Court clearly states that each sentence must “take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.” This includes considering a youth’s age and their “hallmark features” such as immaturity, failure to appreciate risks and consequences, family and home environment, circumstances of the offense and extent of participation, competency and inabilities to deal with police or prosecutors, and the possibility of rehabilitation.
- Read the full opinion of Miller v. Alabama.
- Transcripts for Miller and Jackson from the oral argument on March 20, 2012 : Oral argument - transcripts 10-9646, Oral argument - transcripts 10-9647
Read SCOTUSblog's in-depth analysis of the landmark case: Opinion recap: Narrow ruling on young murderers’ sentences.
- Visit the Michigan Juvenile Justice Collaborative's Juvenile Life without Parole Research Bank for more resources related to JLWOP.
Miller and Jackson News Coverage
- Detroit Free Press, "Supreme Court ruling gives young lifers a chance at parole," June 26, 2012. Link to article.
- Jeff Gerritt, Editorial, Detroit Free Press, "Thank you, U.S., for booting juvenile lifer law," June 26, 2012. Link to article.
- John Barnes, MLive.com, "Defense lawyers make plans to petition for resentencing Michigan's many juvenile lifers," June 26, 2012. Link to article.
- Kevin Grasha, Lansing State Journal, "Supreme Court life sentence decision affects Lansing teen," June 25, 2012. Link to article.
- Gongwer Michigan, "Juvenile sentencing ruling to have major impact," June 25, 2012. Link to article.
- The New York Times, "Justices bar mandatory life terms for juveniles," June 25, 2012. Link to article.
- The Washington Post, "Supreme Court says states may not impose mandatory life sentence on juvenile murderers," June 25, 2012. Link to article.
- The Washington Post, "Bryan Stevenson, the man behind the juvenile justices cases decided by the Supreme Court," June 25, 2012. Link to article.
- Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or media outlet.
- Learn the main talking points of the decision and share them with your legislators and community members.
Additional JLWOP News Coverage:
Don't put juveniles in jail for life - By Laurence Steinberg, Special to CNN
“Supreme Court to review juvenile Injustice,” by James Fox
“Jailed for life at age 14: US Supreme Court to consider juvenile sentences”
“U.S. Supreme Court should give juveniles the chance to prove they've changed,” by Father Greg Boyle
“Ex-Prisoners Say Life Term Is Cruel for Teens, As Case Hits High Court”
“Teens change, given a chance”
“Should Juveniles Receive Life Without Parole?”
“US Supreme Court considers Alabama case of 14-year-old murderer on Tuesday,”
by Mary Orndorff -- The Birmingham News