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juvenile lifers

Courtesy Clari Cabral / Creative Commons -- http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

All this week, we’re looking at juvenile lifers in Michigan -- those inmates sentenced to mandatory life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were minors.

Michigan ranks second in the number of prisoners who fit this classification. There are more than 360 juvenile lifers in Michigan, and a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases has meant that Michigan has to take a second look at the sentences these inmates were given.

documents
Isaac Bowen / Flickr, http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan has 363 prisoners who have been sentenced to mandatory life without parole, the second most in the nation. Early in 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that all of these prisoners must have their sentences reconsidered.

Currently, only a fraction of these cases have been reevaluated and resentenced.

The process of resentencing these juvenile offenders requires much more than a simple file review and hearing. Many documents have to be organized and processed in order for attorneys and judges to properly evaluate each case.

Shayan Sanyal / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

When teenagers commit murder, you can’t treat them the same as adults.

Legally, the U.S. Supreme Court says you can’t just throw teenagers in prison forever, with no chance at parole, except in very rare cases. 

What "rare" really means in Michigan 

Matt Landry was just 21 years old when he was shot and killed, execution style, in an abandoned house in Detroit.

Doreen Landry, his mom, talked to WDIV about Landry’s killers.

Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

As this infographic shows, only Pennsylvania ranks higher than Michigan when it comes to handing out life sentences without the possibility for parole to juveniles.

The U.S. Supreme Court says states have to review these sentences for all those who were convicted and sentenced as juveniles, and that "life without the possibility of parole" should only be reserved for "the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility."

Click on the graphic to see more.

cell block in a prison
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There are 363 Michigan inmates in state prisons closely watching how the state of Michigan and local prosecutors implement two U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The decisions struck down mandatory life sentences for juveniles. The lifers were convicted of murder and sentenced in the late 1980s and 1990s under a get-tough approach to juvenile crime.

The laws were a response to a wave of violent crime that swept the state and the country.

There are more than 350 prisoners in Michigan who have been sentenced to life in prison, without parole, for crimes they committed as juveniles. A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that states must retroactively review all these cases, saying that life sentences for juveniles should only be reserved for "the rarest of juvenile offenders.” Prosecutors in Michigan have been slow to comply.

Prison wall
Microsoft Images

Michigan prosecutors are continuing their resistance to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issue of juvenile life sentences without parole.

The Supreme Court already ruled that denying parole to juvenile lifers is unconstitutional, except in the rarest of cases.

The ACLU is suing Michigan over the state's vague standards for denying parole to juvenile lifers.

Daniel Korobkin, the Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU of Michigan, says the state is being stubborn in terms of following the Supreme Court’s decision.

Judge's gavel
Flickr user Joe Gratz / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

A man sentenced to automatic life in prison as a juvenile could get that sentence reinstated, even though decades of his court files are missing.

That’s what a Wayne County Circuit Court judge has ruled.

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Charles Lewis was convicted of murder and sentenced to automatic life without parole in 1977, when he was 17.

That makes him a so-called “juvenile lifer.” And the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled all juvenile lifers are entitled to a shot at parole or re-sentencing, except in the “rarest” cases.

Michigan Dept of Corrections

DETROIT (AP) - Workers have been paid overtime to search for a missing court file as a man seeks a new sentence in the death of an off-duty Detroit police officer.

  For nearly 40 years, Charles Lewis has been serving a no-parole sentence for the death of Gerald Swyitkowski. But Lewis was 17 at the time of the shooting and now is entitled to a hearing to determine if he'll be eligible for parole.

  But Wayne County authorities can't find the court file from the 1976 case. Lewis' attorney, Valerie Newman, says it's "impossible" to represent him without the records.

Charles Lewis at a hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A Detroit man sentenced to life without parole for a 1977 murder is entitled to a new sentence.

But efforts just to start that process have stalled again because of missing court files.

Charles Lewis was only 17 when he was convicted in the robbery-murder of an off-duty Detroit police officer.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in two recent cases that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional, except in the “rarest” cases.

Lewis is one of more than 300 Michigan “juvenile lifers” now awaiting re-sentencing, which should mean at least a shot at parole.

Charles Lews
Michigan Department of Corrections

A 59-year-old Detroit man convicted of murder at age 17 deserves a new sentence, his supporters argued Tuesday before a hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Charles Lewis is one of 367 “juvenile lifers” in Michigan — prisoners who were sentenced to automatic life without parole as minors.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently ruled that unconstitutional in most cases, and ordered juvenile lifers a meaningful chance at meaningful parole. 

Public domain

More than 360 Michigan inmates have been dealt a setback.

The prisoners were all sentenced to automatic life without parole as teenagers. The U.S. Supreme Court says that's unconstitutional.

So local prosecutors were set to re-sentence those Michigan inmates. 

Attorneys for those prisoners objected. They worried local prosecutors would routinely seek life without parole during re-sentencing, and argued the Supreme Court decision should prevent that.

But Judge John Corbett O'Meara disagreed.

Derek Key / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard is warning against the possible release of some convicted teenage killers, saying it could spark an “unparalleled deadly crime spree.”

The US Supreme Court has ordered states to re-sentence all people sent to prison for mandatory life without parole as juveniles, saying that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

 You might remember the story in the news recently that told of the release of a young man who had been sentenced to life without parole.

Davontae Sanford was convicted and sentenced at age 14 for four murders. The courts recently found he was wrongfully convicted.

In 2012 the Supreme Court banned the use of mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles. 

But that doesn't mean it's completely banned.

Derek Key / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A federal appeals court says Michigan is not complying with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down prison sentences of automatic life without parole for juveniles.

The Supreme Court ruled four years ago that the practice amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Attorney Deborah LaBelle says the state is still not allowing juvenile lifers a meaningful chance at parole.

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Legislation to keep many 17-year-olds from going to adult prisons cleared a state House panel on Tuesday.

Michigan is one of only a handful of states that automatically prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults. The bills would end that practice.

People under 18 could still go to adult prisons for violent crimes such as murder.

  

State Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit, is leading the effort. He says it’s one of the most important criminal justice initiatives moving forward in the country.

Judge's gavel
Flickr user Joe Gratz / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Thanks to an opinion handed down Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court, some 350 Michigan prison inmates woke up today with a new view on life.

In a six-to-three decision, the High Court ruled that all prisoners who have been sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as minors should be given a chance to seek parole.

Deborah LaBelle is an Ann Arbor-based attorney and director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative with the ACLU.

Juvenile justice at last

Jan 26, 2016

Back in 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools, the old “separate but equal” notion, was unconstitutional.

 Now what would have happened if after that ruling, some state attorney general in Mississippi had argued: “Well, we understand that applies to the future, but we’ve got some schools that were segregated before that ruling, and they should stay that way.”

Prison wall
Microsoft Images

More than 300 Michigan inmates sentenced as minors to life without parole could get a second chance at early release. That’s under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling handed down Monday.

In 2012, the court ruled that sentencing minors to mandatory life in prison without the chance for parole was cruel and unusual. But it left it up to states to decide whether people sentenced before then should get resentencing hearings. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled they shouldn’t.

But now the U.S. Supreme Court says all so-called juvenile lifers should be able to argue for early release.

Michigan Supreme Court

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss a new report saying a quarter of Michigan homeowners are still underwater on their mortgages, Republican congressional candidate David Trott’s rough week and the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision not to reconsider parole hearings for juvenile lifers.


The week in Michigan politics

Jul 9, 2014
Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

This Week in Michigan Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss Michigan's ruling on how juvenile lifers will not get a chance at parole, pay raises for city leaders in bankrupt Detroit, and what role Michigan could play in housing undocumented minors crossing the Mexico border.

There is a long-established principle that whenever state law conflicts with a federal law, the federal law prevails. That’s been established by a long string of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, plus a little event called the Civil War.  

This is why, for example, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes could rule that the pensions of Detroit city workers and retirees could be cut, even though Michigan’s state constitution says they can’t be. Federal bankruptcy law prevails.

If this weren’t the case, it would mean that anything Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court did could be overruled by any state legislature, and our nation would become no more than a collection of 50 countries united in name only.

That’s something we all learned in civics class -- which makes the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision yesterday on life sentences for minors completely baffling.

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to automatically sentence juveniles to life without the possibility of parole. However, some politicians who want to be seen as tough on crime, claimed this decision was not retroactive.

And yesterday, in a four to three vote, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed with them. The justices ruled that minors who were sentenced in Michigan to life without the possibility of parole still have no chance of a hearing – if they were sentenced before the nation’s highest court’s ruling.

prison bars
Flickr user FatMandy / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan Supreme Court says felons sentenced as juveniles to life without parole won’t get new sentences.

That’s despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says it’s cruel and unusual punishment.

The question was whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. Alabama applies retroactively in Michigan to more than 300 inmates sentenced as juveniles to life without parole, or if it only applies to future cases.

A four-to-three majority on the state Supreme Court says it would present too many financial and logistical barriers to go back and find lost witnesses and evidence for new sentencing hearings.

The Miller decision says mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional because they don’t take into account each child’s circumstances.

States have split on how to handle the Miller decision, which suggests the issue could yet be headed back one day to the U.S. Supreme Court.

LisaW123 / Flickr

The state Senate has approved a plan to fix and maintain roads being ripped apart by brutal winter weather. The Senate passed a mid-year budget bill Thursday that includes $100 million of emergency money for roads.

The state Department of Transportation and local governments have been constantly running snow plows, spreading salt, and patching potholes. That means they’re looking at huge winter budget overages.

user subterranean / wikimedia commons

Sixteen-year-old Matelyn Sarosi wasn't building snow men or sipping hot chocolate during her recent snow days. Instead, she was drafting an 18-page legal document calling for a chance at parole for Michigan prison inmates sentenced to mandatory life in prison for crimes they committed before the age of 18. 

According to the Detroit Free Press, Father Gabriel Richard Catholic High School student Sarosi explained her motives behind her brief to the Michigan Supreme Court, which was submitted on Friday. 

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

More Michiganders signing up for health care than expected

"About 112,000 Michigan residents chose a private insurance plan under the federal health care law through January, outpacing what was projected in a government memo last summer," the Associated Press reports.

Juvenile lifer sentencing rules head to the governor's desk

"Michigan lawmakers have given final approval to new sentencing rules after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life imprisonment for juveniles. The bills now head to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. The legislation applies to future cases and not retroactively to more than 350 Michigan inmates under 18 when they committed crimes," the Associated Press reports.

Lowest amount of money spent on roads in the U.S.: Michigan

"Michigan spends less money per capita on our roads and bridges than any other state in the nation. We spent just $154 dollars per person, according to the 2010 Census," Michigan Radio reports.

Official portrait

Michigan’s Attorney General has decided to appeal a federal judge’s order that would require parole hearings for more than 300 juvenile offenders serving life sentences.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that sentencing juvenile offenders to automatic life without parole constituted “cruel and unusual” punishment. 

Children who murder should get a chance at parole

Nov 27, 2013

 CORRECTION: The headline was changed to avoid an inadvertent pun.

There are about 350 in Michigan who screwed up badly when they were teenagers. Most took part in murders. All are serving life without the possibility of parole.

Some of these young killers are probably vicious psychopaths who should never be allowed back into society. Others, however, were scared and stupid kids who, in some cases, did nothing except be there when an older friend, or, in a number of cases, a boyfriend, committed some terrible crime.

But they were all sentenced under Michigan law to life without the possibility of parole, and two years ago, you could have said, that was that. Except that isn’t the law anymore.

Seventeen months ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that laws automatically requiring a life sentence without the possibility of parole for kids under 18 are unconstitutional.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Judge John O'Meara's order says the state has until January 31st to send him a plan for how it plans to deal with those inmates sentenced as juveniles to life in prison.

It must ensure every inmate sentenced to mandatory life as a juvenile has a "fair, meaningful, and realistic" opportunity for parole.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette has argued a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Michigan's juvenile lifer law and others like it should only apply to current and future cases.

Schuette could try to appeal Judge O'Meara's order.

Flickr user Still Burning / Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the state's juvenile lifer law applies retroactively to more than 300 inmates. The question is whether those inmates are entitled to parole hearings or if the decision only applies to current and future cases. 

The U.S. Supreme Court decision still allows life-without-parole sentences for minors. But it said courts have to hold hearings to decide whether there are circumstances like abuse or neglect, or whether a defendant was coerced into committing the crime.

The Michigan Supreme Court has also agreed to decide another question: whether minors convicted of assisting in a murder can be given life-without-parole sentences at all. The question is whether that violates the state constitution.

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