close
close
Michigan Supreme Court reconsiders life sentences for juvenile offenders | WKZO | Everything Kalamazoo
Michigan Supreme Court reconsiders life sentences for juvenile offenders | WKZO | Everything Kalamazoo

LANSING, MI (WKZO AM/FM) – The Michigan Supreme Court will reconsider the life sentences without parole given to three men who were convicted of murder at ages 18, 19 and 20 and spent two decades in prison.

Judges will consider several factors, including the age and immaturity of those involved, their family and home environment, and the circumstances of the crimes. In 2022, the court ruled that mandatory non-parole sentences for 18-year-olds convicted of murder violated the state constitution’s ban on “cruel or unusual” punishments. It will now decide whether to extend the sentence to 19- and 20-year-olds.

Quinn Yeargain, an associate professor of law at Michigan State University, supports the court’s decision to review the cases.

“There is a lot of literature that suggests that the brains of people in their late teens and even their early twenties are not fully developed,” Yeargain emphasized. “That is sort of the basis of this constitutional challenge.”

Critics of reducing life sentences for young offenders argue that it is contradictory to claim that people who are old enough to vote, marry and have an abortion without parental consent should not be held fully accountable for their serious crimes.

The Supreme Court will also look at how the offenders have interacted with police and prosecutors and whether they can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. Yeargain stressed that this is not about giving anyone a “get out of jail free card.” He said Michigan’s parole board, which reports to the Department of Justice, is known for being overly cautious when it comes to making sure people seeking parole have actually undergone rehabilitation.

“We’re talking about people who still have very long sentences to serve, and it’s just an acknowledgement that at some point they may be eligible for parole,” Yeargain stressed. “If they can show that they’ve changed and shown remorse, then they may be eligible for release at that point.”

In Michigan, life sentences without parole are no longer automatic for people under 18. Judges will look at their past and potential for rehabilitation, while prosecutors must justify the sentence. The court plans to review the cases in the fall.

By Isla