Skip to Content

U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Whether Juvenile Lifers Can Be Resentenced

December 17, 2014 Criminal Law and Procedure

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that juveniles convicted of crimes could not be sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole. The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits this sentence as a cruel and unusual punishment.

But what about the juveniles who have already been convicted and sentenced to mandatory life in prison? Does the Court’s decision apply retroactively so that those juveniles lifers could be resentenced and maybe be released? The Court left that question open.

The Court announced today that it would take on a case to address whether those juveniles would have a chance to be resentenced.

The decision is especially important in Michigan, where there are 360 juveniles who are spending life in prison, the second largest population of juvenile lifers in the country. The oldest juvenile lifer in Michigan is now 70 years old.

Related: Miller v. Alabama: U.S. Supreme Court Decides that Mandatory Life in Prison Without Parole Sentences are Unconstitutional.

Earlier this year the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that juvenile lifers in Michigan do not get to be resentenced. The U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision, if favorable to juveniles, could overturn that opinion.

At least nine other states have ruled that juvenile lifers in their states will get a second chance at sentencing.

There has been emerging science showing that a young person’s brain is not fully formed, leaving juveniles unable to make the same reasoned decisions that adults can. Young people, as we well know, often make decisions based on impulse and peer pressure.

Many of the juvenile lifers in Michigan were convicted under the felony-murder rule, which holds that a person who commits a certain type of felony is responsible for the death of another person that occurs as a result of that felony, even if the death is unintentional. Accomplices to the felony are also held responsible for the unintentional death, even where the accomplice may not have active involvement in the crime.

There are many reasons why juveniles should not be held as culpable for their actions as adults are. A mandatory life in prison sentence is essentially a death sentence, a notion recognized by the Supreme Court.

Juveniles cannot now be sentenced to mandatory life in prison. Justice demands that those juvenile lifers already in prison have the same opportunity to receive the type of sentence that juveniles will now receive.

Contact ArborYpsi Law at 734-883-9584 or at bernstein@arborypsilaw.com to speak with attorney Sam Bernstein