Two days prior to Christmas, a federal appeals court panel signed an order which temporarily stayed an order issued in November by U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara requiring Michigan to give parole hearings to “juvenile lifers,” or inmates who are serving mandatory life sentences for offenses committed as minors. This order would have affected some 350 inmates, according to news reports.
In November, Judge O’Meara ordered the state to develop a process for offering parole hearings to these inmates. The deadline for developing the process was December 31. The judge issued the order saying that in the wake of the June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding Michigan’s sentencing scheme for juveniles as cruel and unusual punishment, the state had failed to take action.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette called the order by the federal appeals court a “Christmas gift” for the families of victims murdered by the inmates who were at the time juveniles. Schuette has been staunchly against offering inmates an opportunity for parole. The Attorney General said in a statement that “I will continue to fight for murder victims and their families who should not be forced to go through unnecessary parole hearings. We will also aggressively defend the authority of state court sentencing judges to object to parole when public safety requires it.”
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders in June of 2012, however state and federal courts have not been in agreement regarding whether the ruling should be applicable to inmates who committed murder as juveniles, but who are already in custody.
U.S. Supreme Court justices determined in 2012 that certain sentencing schemes are unconstitutional, such as those for juveniles which to not take into consideration factors such as a young person’s potential for cognitive and character development. It was determined that placing juveniles in prison and essentially “throwing away the key” without taking into account factors such as the child’s maturity level, age, and circumstances equates to cruel and unusual punishment.
Schuette is appealing Judge O’Meara’s order; in the meantime, several of the inmates have brought a lawsuit against Michigan which is being considered by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Should inmates who were ultimately children when they were imprisoned for violent crimes such as murder be incarcerated for their entire lives? This is certainly a topic that has been hotly debated.
If you or a loved one have been wrongly convicted or feel that the sentence you were given is unfair or excessive, consult with a highly regarded Michigan criminal appeals attorney at once. Winning an appeal is a highly involved and difficult process, however the lawyer you choose can make all of the difference in the outcome.