91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

State Supreme Court sets new rules for sentencing youth to life

Judge's gavel with books on a desk

The Michigan Supreme Court has set new boundaries around life sentences for young people convicted of murder.

The 4-3 decisions were closely divided between the court’s Democratic Party-nominated justices and the justices nominated by the Republican Party.

The majority on a divided court held that automatic sentences of life without parole for defendants 18 or younger constitute “cruel or unusual punishment” under the Michigan Constitution, and that the decision will align Michigan with a key U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Miller v. Alabama.

Deborah LaBelle is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. She said the decisions require courts to take a highly individualized approach to sentencing juveniles.

“So what the judge should be looking at, is this a child capable of rehabilitation and change as they grow up or are they somehow irredeemable?” she told Michigan Public Radio.

LaBelle said the decisions could affect hundreds of people sent to prison as teenagers, who will now get a chance at parole.

In one of the cases, Republican-nominated Justice David Viviano’s dissent accused the majority of acting outside its authority.

“The majority’s holding finds no support in the statute and conflicts with our case law, and its rewriting of the statute raises serious separation-of-powers concerns,” he wrote.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
Related Content
  • As this infographic shows, only Pennsylvania ranks higher than Michigan when it comes to handing out life sentences without the possibility for parole to…
  • With two landmark rulings, the United States Supreme Court has made it clear: Mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles are unconstitutional. This has meant that the more than 360 so-called juvenile lifers in Michigan -- the second-highest total in the nation -- are eligible for re-sentencing, and possibly a second chance. It’s also meant time-consuming case reviews and court hearings, and, for victims’ families, often a painful reopening of the worst moments in their lives.The week of December 12th, 2016, Michigan Radio took a close look at how Michigan is following up on these landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings.Are juvenile lifers in Michigan getting a second chance?It's a difficult discussion that has life and death stakes, murders and victims, issues of justice and fairness, and a lot of legal maneuvering. It's also a conversation about how we, as a society, should treat the most troubled children among us.There are few easy answers. See our entire series below.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state of Michigan for its law that allows people convicted as minors to be imprisoned for life with no…