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Michigan District Court Ruling May Give Juveniles a Second Chance

This January, U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara in Ann Arbor gave hope to several hundred juvenile offenders in the state, when he declared the retroactive application of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, which prohibits mandatory life sentences for crimes committed by juveniles. This ruling is particularly meaningful, because it overturns a prior decision by the state appeals court, which stated that retroactivity would not apply to most inmates already incarcerated.

supreme court “If there was ever a legal rule that should – as a matter of law and morality – be given retroactive effect, it is the rule announced in Miller,” O’Meara said, referring to the Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama. He stated that in his opinion, compliance with the Supreme Court decision, “requires providing a fair and meaningful possibility of parole to each and every Michigan prisoner who was sentenced to life for a crime committed as a juvenile.”

The next most important step is for the manner in which the parole hearings will be held to be determined in accordance with input from the state attorney general and lawyers for inmates.

According to CBS Detroit, Michigan has the second highest number of juvenile lifers in the country, so this decision can potentially impact a great deal of young people.

Miller v. Alabama Last year the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling declaring the unconstitutionality of mandatory life sentences for crimes committed by juveniles. Miller v. Alabama held that requiring a mandatory life sentence for certain crimes committed as juveniles, violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, which requires that the punishment fit the crime.

The majority opinion, which was written by Justice Kagan, criticized the implementation of the mandatory life sentencing because it, “precludes consideration of [teenagers’] chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.” Additionally, when faced with a mandatory sentence, judges are categorically prevented from taking into account the family and home life of the juvenile, which by its very nature, “surrounds him — and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional.” Mandatory sentences do not allow judges any discretion in adjusting the term of imprisonment based on the defendant’s unique circumstances.

Hopefully the application of Miller v. Alabama to the Michigan court system will give juvenile offenders the opportunity to prove that they deserve a second chance. The retroactive application of the decision is in accordance with the fairness and equality that our justice system demands.

Attorney Steven L. Schwartz, is a third generation attorney. He has practiced law as a criminal defense attorney in the Detroit area for more than two decades. He is dedicated to his clients, and works zealously for his clients to secure a dismissal, not guilty verdict or reduced charges. If you need an experienced and tireless criminal defense attorney in the Detroit area, you can visit our website or call (248) 266-8720 to schedule your initial consultation.

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