In November it was announced the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was filing suit against the state of Michigan over the state’s unclear standards regarding denial of parole to juvenile lifers. In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional. In January of 2016, the Supreme Court ruled those juveniles sentenced to life without parole prior to the 2012 ruling must have an opportunity to argue they should be released from prison; in other words, the 2012 ruling must be applied retroactively. Ultimately, three states – including Michigan – decided to go against the ruling.
ACLU of Michigan Deputy Legal Director Daniel Korobkin said in news reports that in terms of abiding by the Supreme Court’s decision, Michigan was being stubborn and still bent on imposing a life without parole sentence on most teenagers, a sentence that for juveniles is “absolutely” unconstitutional.
Sadly, there are more people who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles in Michigan than any other state with the exception of Pennsylvania. For minors or juveniles, 39 states have abolished life sentences without parole. Any person in the state of Michigan, even children, are still sentenced to life without parole if found guilty of the crime of first-degree murder.
The ACLU has filed suit against Michigan in its efforts to speed up the review of some 360 juvenile lifer sentences.
Why should juveniles be treated differently from adults when they commit crimes that are considered particularly serious or heinous? According to the Supreme Court:
Children are especially receptive to rehabilitation and counseling. Just as juveniles are often lead to criminal acts because they are impressionable, they are also impressionable when it comes to changing their lives’ paths.
From a legal standpoint, children are less accountable or responsible for their actions because of the fact their brains are not yet fully developed, and they have less impulse control when compared to adults according to scientific studies.
Juveniles typically don’t have access to a quality attorney because they lack the financial resources. Because of this, they get bad legal representation and are unable to navigate the criminal justice system properly.
Children often live in unhealthy or bad environments, and they have no choice. Unlike adults, juveniles often do not have an opportunity to improve their circumstances as adults who have the resources to get a job or pursue further education do. Juveniles are often the victims of their environment and life.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment. However, it seems prosecutors in Michigan prefer to keep those who committed serious crimes as children locked up behind bars forever. Is this right? Is it fair?
As of December 2016, Michigan prosecutors had filed motions in nearly 60% of cases to uphold the life without parole sentences. How long will Michigan prosecutors continue to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling? Children are easily rehabilitated, and many of the 360 juvenile lifers incarcerated in Michigan prisons could be great contributors to our society. What is your opinion on the ACLU suit against the state regarding juvenile lifers?