Should Juries Have the Power to Sentence Teens to Life?

The question of whether a jury should have the power to sentence a teenager to prison for life is a very conflicted one. Which is why the Michigan Court of Appeals has assigned a panel of judges to address the issue of whether or not to grant that kind of power to a jury, when they are faced with a teen who is convicted of first degree murder.


This particular issue is being handled now because of a recent instance in which the current precedent was applied to a specific case, and the Judges involved were not in agreement. Last year, a precedent was set by a previously appointed panel of three judges that determined that the jury, not the judge, should have the power to decide the fate of a convicted teenager’s life. But when other judges had to apply it to a recent murder case in Flint, they disagreed with it completely.


The newest panel, which will consist of seven judges appointed by the Michigan Court of Appeals, will have to determine what is best in future cases where the defendant is a teen convicted of first degree murder. After voting on the issue, the Court created the panel to readdress the issue. But thus far, while briefs have been filed, no oral arguments have yet been scheduled.


it is juries and not judges that decide sentencing

If the panel decides that the power to sentence teens to life without parole should indeed fall to a jury, it would be a rather unusual situation. After all, Michigan has never had a jury sentencing before, and it may change the way certain sentences are handled in the future in our state. In other states, it is juries and not judges that decide sentencing. In other states, juries make recommendations to the judge but in the end, the judges make the final sentencing decisions.


The felony case that set the previous Michigan precedent was based in St. Clair County, where 17-year-old Tia Skinner, an honors student, orchestrated an attack in her home that left her mother injured and her father dead. She was sentenced no less than four times for that crime, with the first three sentences being overturned by the appeals court for being too harsh.


According to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS),a life without parole for a teenager is the equivalent of a death sentence, and is therefore considered to be “cruel and unusual.” As a result, the Court of Appeals finally determined that Skinner’s fourth sentence must be decided by a jury.


But that precedent has caused a great deal of controversy and so the Michigan Court of Appeals has decided to settle the matter once and for all, subject to review by higher courts of appeal. Some people are for the current precedent where teens are treated differently than adults, while others believe that first degree murder is still first degree murder, regardless of who committed it.


Our criminal defense team will be monitoring Court of Appeals closely and will keep you updated on the decision that they make when it occurs.

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