LANSING – Michigan Legislative Black Caucus (MLBC) members Chairman Representative Thomas F. Stallworth III (D-Detroit), Rep. Brian Banks (D-Harper Woods), and Rep. Fred Durhal Jr. (D-Detroit) said today that the Senate and House members of the caucus are working to amend the juvenile offender life sentence bills to include retroactivity. Adding retroactivity would ensure that 350 inmates currently in the Michigan prison system, who were convicted as juveniles and given life sentences, would have a chance at parole.
“The United States Supreme Court was clear in its opinion in Miller v. Alabama when they found that life without parole sentences given to juvenile offenders was cruel and unusual punishment,” said Stallworth. “My Senate and House MLBC colleagues believe that the court did not draw a distinction between future offenders and those currently serving these sentences. We are on solid ground arguing for retroactivity to be included in these bills, and we will work hard to see that it is included.”
Senate Bills 318 and 319 cover any future juvenile criminal defendant sentenced on or after the effective date of SB 319, those with a case still pending in the trial court or whose time for review had not expired as of the date of the Supreme Court opinion, June 25, 2012. The Senate bills, however, leave Michigan’s 350 inmates who were convicted as juveniles and given life without parole sentences with no meaningful opportunity for freedom.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette supports the Senate bills and has voiced his objection to retroactivity. House Bills 4806-4809 also address the Supreme Court decision.
“By including retroactivity in these bills, we will give these offenders a chance at parole,” said Durhal. “The Supreme Court decision in Miller does not guarantee that these particular offenders will automatically win parole. However, it was clear that youth and other mitigating factors need to be taken into consideration prior to imposing a life without parole sentence on a juvenile. The 350 individuals currently serving these types of sentences deserve to have the benefit of the decision applied to them, and that is what we are asking for by arguing that these bills include retroactivity.”
Michigan is one of 26 states that have sentenced juveniles as adults. Michigan is second only to Massachusetts in the number of juveniles serving life sentences without parole. Not all of these offenders were actual killers. A number of them were sentenced as aiding and abetting the crime. A 2011 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report found that 221 of these juveniles are minorities. Of that figure 211 are African-American.
“Michigan should not be stalling on implementing the Supreme Court decision and allowing these offenders to try for parole,” said Banks. “We should be implementing this decision in its entirety, instead of ignoring those who were convicted as juveniles. The court has said that they should have a chance of parole and that is what we are asking for.”