Saturday, March 17, 2012

Michigan has 359 lifers who killed as juveniles

At present, 359 inmates in Michigan are serving life for crimes committed as minors, one out of seven nationally, according to MLive’s updated analysis. Only Pennsylvania has more juveniles serving life. The number was one higher until last month, when a prisoner was resentenced to a parolable term – 33 years after he fled a grocery store robbery. His partner stayed behind and killed the owner.

Six of Michigan’s 359 were 14 at the time of their crime – the same as two inmates whose cases are being considered by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court by 5-4 margins has been chipping away at the nation's severest punishments as applied to minors.

In 2005 the Court ruled the death penalty unconsitutional for those who committed their crimes at 17 and younger. In 2010, the Court expanded the ruling to juveniles serving life in non-homicide cases. Citing in part a consensus agianst the death penalty in those situations.

Now the court is reviewing whether juvenile life without parole is unlawful even in homicide cases. But the justices can do more than a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down, reported MLive.
• The court could limit its ruling to 14-years-olds or younger, though many experts consider that unlikely.

• It could limit its scope to cases where a minor was an accessory, but did not commit the actual killing. About one-third of Michigan’s juvenile lifers fall in that category.

• Or it could direct its focus on those states – including Michigan – with mandatory systems that do not allow age to be considered when juveniles are ordered to life without parole.

That’s what Deborah LaBelle believes the court will do.

“Only 11 states have mandatory life without parole, without any consideration of the effects of youth,” LaBelle, who represents many of the state’s juvenile lifers on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, told Mlive
“The majority of states have mechanisms to take that into consideration,” said LaBelle, who also is executive director of Second Chances 4 Youth. “Getting rid of everything, I don’t think that is a likely outcome.”

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