Monday, November 7, 2011

Michigan Second to Only Pennsylvania with Juvenile Lifers

The Associated Press reported that Michigan ranks second in the nation in the number of prisoners sentenced as juveniles to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Michigan law makes a sentence of life without parole mandatory for first-degree murder. and its affiliated Booth Newspapers report in a series of indepth stories that 358 Michigan prisoners were juveniles when they were sentenced to life without parole. That's second only to Pennsylvania, which has 472 prisoners who got life-no parole sentences as juveniles.
Nationwide, the news group says about 2,500 people are serving life without parole sentences they received as juveniles. Michigan has about 10 million residents, or about 3% of the nation's 300 million people. But Michigan has about 14% of the nation's prisoners with no-parole sentences received as juveniles.
According to, U.S. District Judge John Corbett O'Meara said eight of nine inmates who sued waited too long to go to court. But he allowed Keith Maxey, 20, of Wayne County, to pursue his case against the state. He was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder in 2008.

The Michigan parole board is barred from considering people for parole if they've been convicted of first-degree murder. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Maxey, calls it cruel and unusual punishment because inmates convicted as teens have no opportunity to show they've changed while in prison.

The judge was not deciding the overall merits of the case Friday. His 13-page decision was a response to the state's request to have the lawsuit dismissed, mostly on procedural grounds.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down no-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes less than murder. O'Meara likely will be asked to consider whether that decision should also apply to Michigan's young convicted killers.

"We're very hopeful that the mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children will be struck down as unconstitutional," said Michael Steinberg, legal director at ACLU Michigan.

The state attorney general's office said it would continue to defend the law.
FACTS (from
A juvenile lifer primer
In general, mandatory life without parole is reserved for first-degree murder, but that covers a range of crimes: premeditated killing; intentional or unintentional death during another felony; or aiding and abetting the previous crimes.
Here’s how the treatment of minors charged and convicted of such crimes has evolved:
Pre-1988: Only 17-years-olds automatically treated as adults; 15- and 16-year-olds waived to adult court only if juvenile judge approved. No one younger than 15 tried in adult court.
October 1988 through 1996: 15- and 16-year-olds automatically waived to adult court. A judge had two options: Mandatory life in adult prison, or send them to a juvenile facility for release no later than 21. The number of juvenile lifers more than doubled from the previous eight years.
1997 to now: 14-year-olds also automatically tried as adults. Prosecutors also can designate 14- to 16-year-olds for “adult-like” proceedings in juvenile court, and request those 13 and younger be subject to the same proceedings.
The change gave juvenile judges three options:
• Commit the minor to a juvenile facility until 21.
• Sentence them as adults to life without parole.
• Apply a “blended” sentence, where the minor would go to a juvenile facility until 21. The judge would then determine whether to order mandatory life.

Read the Juvenile Lifer Law Series

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