Legislators work toward ending life without parole sentencing for juveniles in Michigan

Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 1:06 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 3, 2023 at 5:25 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Senate and House members introduced bipartisan legislation that abolishes juvenile life without parole in Michigan.

The move would align Michigan with 26 other states that have taken steps to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Miller v. Alabama that declared automatically sentencing a child to life without parole was unconstitutional.

The bills comply with recent Michigan Supreme Court decisions by eliminating mandatory life without parole sentences for 18-year-olds. The legislation aims to provide a more rehabilitative approach to juvenile justice, allowing for the possibility of redemption and second chances for young offenders.

Together, Senate Bills 119-123 introduced Wednesday, and House Bills 4160-4164 introduced Thursday, eliminate life without the possibility of parole for youth under nineteen, provide a minimum sentence of no less than ten years and a maximum sentence of no more than 60 years, and allow for parole review after 10 years where incapacities of youth must be considered.

Senate Bill 121 states: If the court entered a judgment of conviction or, if the court determines that the best interests of the public would be served, impose any sentence upon the juvenile that could be imposed upon an adult convicted of the offense for which the juvenile was convicted, other than imprisonment for life without parole eligibility.

“The law clearly distinguishes children from adults — this is why ending juvenile life without parole is necessary. These are kids’ lives we are talking about. I can’t stress the importance of this legislation enough: It’s the difference between life behind bars and the opportunity for redemption, grace and mercy” Rep. Amos O’Neal (D) said.

Sen. Sylvia Santana (D) explained “the Michigan Supreme Court has placed the burden on the prosecuting attorney to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a young person is one of the rare people who should receive a life without parole sentence.”

Rep. Curtis VanderWall (R) said “there are people in Michigan prisons who were sentenced as children to life without parole, and their cases need to be reviewed and given another look.”

Ronnie Waters, a Safe & Just Michigan community engagement specialist who was sentenced to life without parole as a juvenile but released in 2020 after a resentencing hearing, stressed the importance of this package.

“There is a misconception that Miller v. Alabama ended juvenile life without parole for good, but it did not,” he said. “States like Michigan can still sentence children to death by incarceration.”

The bills will now go through a series of committee hearings before being voted on by the full House and Senate. If passed, the legislation would have a significant impact on the way the state handles juvenile justice and the sentencing of young offenders.

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