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Judge ruling could allow for faster parole hearings for juvenile lifers

Prison wall
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 A judge has struck down a law that bars some Michigan prisoners from getting credit for good behavior.

The decision could clear the way for faster parole hearings for prisoners who were convicted of murder when they were teens.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith says it was unconstitutional for lawmakers to retroactively cut off good behavior or discipline credits for juvenile lifers in homicides that occurred before 1999.

Dozens of these inmates have been resentenced to shorter sentences because of a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Welch v. United States. Under Welch v. United States, the Court ruled that the decision in Johnson v. United States -- which declared mandatory life sentences for juveniles unconstitutional -- would apply retroactively to prisoners who have already been sentenced.

The court ruled in its decision in Johnson v. United States, which concluded that imposing a greater sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act’s residual clause violates due process.

Under the Armed Career Criminal Act, if someone has three violent felonies or “serious” drug crimes on his or her record, the law adds an extra five years to their fourth conviction. The Supreme Court held that there was ambiguity in the definition of a “violent felony” in the ACCA’s residual clause -- “conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another” -- and was determined to be unconstitutionally vague.

According to SCOTUSBlog’s Rory Little, the application of Johnson retroactively would mean:

If Johnson applies retroactively, any defendant who has been sentenced to a lengthy federal term as a "four-time loser," with one of his three prior convictions found to be "violent" only under the residual clause, could demand resentencing and a substantial reduction of his sentence – or even immediate release.

Goldsmith's ruling, released Monday, is important because credits could move prisoners even closer to freedom.

The judge turned down the state's request to suspend his decision for 14 days so it can pursue an appeal.

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
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