Articles Posted in Juvenile Crimes

We covered what a juvenile lifer is in a previous blog, you can find that information as well as a more detailed history of how we got to this point here. If you weren’t currently aware, the state of Michigan is undergoing an overhaul as to how juveniles charged with serious cases are sentenced. A recent Supreme Court ruling has deemed life sentences for juvenile offenders unconstitutional, and as such, have required all juveniles who have been sentenced to a life term to be brought back for resentencing under the new rules. This ruling affected about 350 cases, and they are slowly having their cases brought back to court for a possible second chance. About half of these cases have been brought back for resentencing since the Supreme Court made its decision retroactive to all juvenile lifer cases back in January of 2016. Here is a recent story dealing with one of these cases:

The Original Case

At the age of 16, Charles Finch was convicted for his role in conspiracy, robbery, and the first-degree murder in the stabbing death of a man of a man in his home. The victim’s then-fiancé promised to share the proceeds of a life insurance policy if they killed the victim. Finch committed this crime with two others, who were 17 and 14 years old then respectively. The three teens went to the victim’s house in Jackson, Michigan and were let inside where the victim was beaten, bound, robbed, and ultimately stabbed to death. It was not alleged that Finch stabbed the victim, rather it was it was one of the other boys who did. Finch, however, was accused of hitting the victim over the head with a wrench during the robbery.

The county where the city of Battle Creek sits just launched a new juvenile diversion program. Called ASPIRE, the program is aimed at juveniles who are accused of misdemeanor crimes who are users of drugs, alcohol and even tobacco. The recent rise of vaping has led to a bigger focus on the abuse of tobacco, this coincides with the recent age increase from 18 to 21 to be able to legally purchase or use tobacco products. ASPIRE stands for Adolescence Substance Abuse Programming Through Innovative Recovery Education. Being successful in this program can keep a juvenile out of the justice system while keeping their criminal record clean.

What Happens In A Diversionary Program?

A diversionary program is a program typically designed for first time offenders for specific types of crimes. In the state of Michigan there are state mandated diversionary programs that range from Minor in Possession of Alcohol (MIP) cases all the way to a first-time charge of Domestic Violence. The program will set a specific focus on behavior areas that need to be brought under control or stopped completely. Expect things like alcohol and drug testing and counseling, anger management classes, and community service, etc. There is typically a period of probation in which the offender will have to meet these specific requirements in order to be successful. If the person completes the program successfully, they will end up with a dismissal of the original charge and keep a clean criminal record.

What Is A Juvenile Lifer?

A juvenile lifer is a person under the age of 17 who was tried and convicted as an adult for a serious crime in which they were sentenced to a mandatory life term in prison. The United States is the only country in the world which allows for children to be put away for life without the possibility of parole. Here in the state of Michigan, there are more such cases than anywhere else in the country except for the state of Pennsylvania. There have been just over 350 cases of juvenile’s sentenced to mandatory life without the chance of parole in the state of Michigan. There were around 2,300 juvenile lifer cases across the United States as a whole.

The Supreme Court’s Decision Regarding Mandatory Life Terms For Juveniles:

Michigan is known as one of the most unforgiving states for those charged with juvenile crimes. Unlike most states, our state charges 17-year-old children as adults when a criminal act is charged. New legislation could provide relief for those that have not reached the age of majority.

One of the sponsors of the “Raise the Age” plan is Senator Peter J. Lucido (R-Shelby Township) who is an attorney and a former probation officer. Lucido recently told The Detroit Metro Times that the bill represented a momentous day for our state. To learn more about the Lucido sponsored bill, we spoke to some of the top criminal lawyers in the state of Michigan to gain their insight into the new legislation.

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates, which is known as the top criminal defense firm in the state of Michigan. When asked about the legislation, Grabel stated, “Far too often we see young people charged with crimes as adults. Our criminal justice system is supposed to have more forgiveness for the young and the elderly. This bill will go a long way to protecting the freedom of our young people.”

One statute that prosecutors across the state of Michigan are at odds over is MCL 750.543m, which is defined as “Making Terrorist Threat or False Report of Terrorism.” This statute carries a 20-year felony and/or a $20,000 fine and states explicitly that intent or capability is not a valid defense. The legislature places this as a strict liability offense, and the application of this law has led to a great deal of controversy.

The language of the statute provides:

A person is guilty of making a terrorist threat or of making a false report of terrorism if the person does either of the following:

While the Holmes Youthful Training Act (HYTA) gives young people in the state of Michigan a chance to protect their future, the key to a successful HYTA argument often comes in the petition brought before the court. To explain the key to this petition, we had a chance to speak with some of the top criminal defense lawyers in the state to gain their insight.

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and is known for successfully arguing HYTA in the most difficult of situations. When asked about the HYTA Petition, Grabel said, “Nothing is as powerful when arguing HYTA as providing support for your argument. A strong HYTA Petition is not always required by the sentencing judge, but it can make all of the difference in the world. We have to remember when we are defending someone between the ages of 17 to 24, an aggressive and character building defense is required. The proper petition can win the day.”

William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan and a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates. Amadeo has quickly developed a reputation as one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the state of Michigan. When asked about the HYTA Petition, Amadeo stated, “Not every jurisdiction requires an HYTA Petition, but from my experience, a strong petition coupled with a solid sentencing memorandum can move the court. I’ve learned from judges such as Matthew Stewart, Nick Holowka, and Cedric Simpson what it takes to write a solid petition. A young lawyer can learn a lot sitting in the gallery and seeing how a judge will view the defendant, and it can be an amazing tutorial. What I’ve learned from these judges and many others is how to write a strong HYTA Petition. This document, coupled with a solid Sentencing Memorandum, will give your client the most optimal chance to secure their freedom and protect their future.”

No parent wants to learn their child has been accused of shoplifting, however it isn’t uncommon for minors (those younger than 17) to commit this crime. It can be very enticing to a young girl to stick a tube of lipstick in her pocket or purse; a young man just can’t resist a “five finger discount” that seems easy enough to get away with. As a parent you may experience disappointment, disbelief, even anger. While no parent should condone stealing, you don’t want your child to wind up in jail or with a criminal record. What should you expect?

Depending on the item a teen is attempting to shoplift and other circumstances, many stores decide not to call the police and simply confiscate the item(s). However, if the manager or someone in an authority position does decide to call law enforcement in, the age of your child is the biggest factor in how the case will be handled.

In the state of Michigan someone who is 17 or older is charged as an adult; those younger than 17 will be treated as a juvenile offender. Shoplifting is retail fraud, and may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the person’s criminal history, the value of the stolen goods or the merchandise a person attempted to steal, and other factors.

Recently there have been several reports of threats made against high schools in Ingham County and surrounding areas in Michigan. According to news reports, 17-year-old Jake Johnson was charged with making threats against Williamston High School last week.

On April 25th students at Berkley High School were dismissed after the school received a bomb threat left on a voicemail that originated from an area outside of Michigan. While officials didn’t believe the threat was credible, it was in the best interest of students and faculty to close the school for the day.

Waverly High School in Lansing was the target of a threat allegedly make to the school recently via Snapchat, a social media app. According to news reports, Eaton County Sheriff’s Office increased patrols around the school last week after threats of violence were made by a student of the school. While it was determined by law enforcement the threat was not ongoing, investigation results were to be reviewed by the Eaton County Prosecutor’s Office according to Jeffrey Cook, Eaton County Undersheriff.

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.

Toward the end of April this year, what some have described as the “largest criminal justice reform package in U.S. history” was passed in the House, a package of bills that would mean 17-year-olds who allegedly commit certain crimes would not be automatically treated as adults in the criminal justice system.

Michigan criminal attorneys know that 17-year-olds, who in the opinion of most people are not adults, have been treated as such for too long.  There are only nine states that try 17-year-olds as adults, and Michigan is one of them.  For those who are 17 and have been charged with a crime or their families, this could be very good news.  In the majority of cases, the criminal penalties adults face if convicted of a crime are much harsher than the punishment younger individuals considered juveniles face.
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