Law Blog

Juvenile Lifers in Michigan: Proposed Changes to Unconstitutional State Law to be Discussed at Scheduled Joint Hearing

Update: The joint meeting of the House Criminal Justice and Senate Judiciary committees was rescheduled for August 27 at 9 a.m.

Of all the clients that our Detroit criminal defense attorneys work with, juveniles accused of serious offenses were always the most heartbreaking—that is, until the U.S. Supreme Court deemed Michigan’s “juvenile lifer” law unconstitutional just over a year ago.

Lawmakers in Michigan are expected to hear testimony regarding the proposed changes to the unconstitutional state law as early as this month. Currently, A joint session with the Chairs of the House Criminal Justice and Senate Judiciary committees was been scheduled for August 27th, 2013 at 9 a.m. While they do not intend to vote on anything on that date, the testimony is intended to be on bipartisan legislation to modernizing the state law in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling.

Before deemed unconstitutional, the Michigan juvenile lifer law gave prosecutors a wide authority to pursue adult charges against minors convicted of particularly serious crimes, including first-degree murder. Juveniles could be sentenced to serve mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole, if found guilty.

However, a June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling of 5-4 stated that mandatory sentences such as these are form of cruel and unusual punishment and are therefore unconstitutional. The majority decision noted that such legislation fails to acknowledge the potential for cognitive and character development in minors. Hoe Home to over 350 juvenile lifers, Michigan has the second highest number of incarcerated minors in the United States. This alarming statistic has remained stationary as state and federal courts debate the possibility of retroactivity for minors with life sentences—particularly, whether the decision will apply to all underage lifers or just those on direct appeal and future offenders.

House Bill 4806, introduced last month by Republican Representatives Joe Haveman, Al Pscholka and Margaret O’Brien is expected to offer a few solutions.

According to the proposed legislation, the bill would allow minors with life sentences or prosecuting attorneys to request a resentencing hearing. During that time, the judge would have the opportunity to consider all of the circumstances of the case (including the juvenile’s age at the time of their offense) before either confirming the original sentence or open to an alternative.

The Detroit defense attorneys at Nessel and Kessel Law are excited about both the Supreme Court ruling and proposed legislation to eliminate mandatory life sentences without parole for minors. Stunting minor’s during particularly moldable periods in their lives, it is important that Michigan lawmakers remember the entire point behind incarceration: rehabilitation.




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