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Juvenile lifer ruling requires authorities to track down victims

There is some question on the reach of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.

Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office says it may only apply going forward and not to the 366 juvenile lifers currently serving in Michigan prisons.

Dawn Van Hoek directs the State Appellate Defender Office, which represents some of the juvenile lifers. She disagrees and said every juvenile sentenced to life without parole should get a new hearing.

“I think they’ve already signaled, the Supreme Court has, and, you know, you have to wonder why even bother if you’re not going to apply it to the hundreds of people who were affected nationwide by these unconstitutional laws,” said Van Hoek.

That would also require the state to track down the families of murder victims who have a right under Michigan law to testify at sentencing hearings.

Victims advocates say the court decision turned upside down Michigan’s truth-in-sentencing law.

They say that law is supposed to offer certainty to victims of crimes on how long perpetrators will remain in prison.

Jody Robinson’s brother was murdered 22 years ago. One of the killers was 16 years old.

“We don’t want to have to re-live this nightmare,” said Robinson. “We didn’t ask for this relationship with the offender. It was forced upon us and when can we break that tie? When can we say, OK, you’re out of my life.”

A state House committee held a hearing today on what Michigan needs to do to comply with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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