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Supreme Court Offers Juvenile Lifers a Second Chance

United States Supreme Court Hands Down Ruling

Laws change. Opinions that were once held to be immutable, become fluid with time. And while this is often viewed as a good thing for people in the corrections system, it must be very hard for lifers. Especially those who were put away as juveniles decades ago. They see others serve time and get out for crimes that appear far worse than their own, simply because the laws have changed. So a recent Supreme Court decision is a wonderful opportunity for some of those individuals who had expected to grow old and die behind bars.

The United States Supreme Court, in a 6 – 3 decision, ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. And the best part is, this decision applies retroactively. Which means that almost 350 prisoners currently serving out life sentences in Michigan that they sentenced to as juveniles, are now eligible for resentencing hearings.

Essentially, it was determined that forcing a juvenile to spent the rest of their life in prison is actually unconstitutional and violates the eighth amendment. This particular amendment is part of the bill of rights, and makes it unlawful for the government to impose excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishment.

Given the recent SCOTUS ruling, Michigan judges can still consider life without parole at the resentencing hearings. But they are also free to consider another option as well. Prison terms where the minimum is 25 to 40 years and the maximum is 60 years, are now on the table. And for people who’ve been behind bars for 30, 40 and even 50 years already, that is an amazing consideration.

But not everyone is happy about this recent ruling. Attorney General Bill Schuette has openly opposed this possibility. Prior to the decision, he appealed to the High Court, requesting that they deny sentencing options to any convicted juvenile lifers. His reason? The resentencing hearings would be too traumatic for the victim’s families.

But according to the majority of Justices who voted in favor of the ruling, this will be good for the individual states, as it will allow states more autonomy and also save them more money. Incarcerating people is a great financial burden for the state, and allowing a number of lifers to be paroled will save state dollars that could then be diverted to other, more worthy, expenses.

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling means that now prosecutors all over the state of Michigan will provide the chief judge in their county with a list of names of all juvenile lifers eligible for resentencing. It also means that prosecutors will be required to file motions for resentencing within the next six months, in any cases where they plan to ask the judge to impose a life sentence again without the possibility of parole.


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