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U.S. Supreme Court “juvenile lifer” decision would not apply to past cases under Senate bill

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Legislation to overhaul Michigan’s juvenile lifer law would not apply to inmates already sentenced as teenagers to life without parole.

The bills were adopted today by the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

The legislation is required because the U.S. Supreme Court struck down automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.

James Sorenson lost his son in 2007 to a teenaged murderer.    He says any rewrite of the law should put the interests of the victims’ families ahead of teenagers who participated in a murder.

“My son was not an inconvenience that got in somebody’s way. He was not a ‘childish indiscretion’,” says Sorenson.

Jonathan Sacks is with the State Appellate Defenders Office. He says not every inmate sentenced to life without parole as a teenager deserves to be released.   But he says some of them should have a chance at parole.

“That’s not to say they didn’t make the ultimate decision to be there,” says Sacks, “Some of the ones who didn’t pull the trigger might be just as guilty, but some of the ones truly were there because of peer pressure and should get a term-of-years sentence for that level of participation and that intent.”

The legislation could be voted on soon by the state Senate.

This version is in conflict with a House bill that would require hearings for hundreds of juvenile lifers currently in a Michigan prison.

The Senate bill says the law will apply retroactively only if a court orders it.

A federal judge is watching Michigan’s efforts to comply with the 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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