Detroit Evening Report: Michigan Court of Appeals orders resentencing for 18-year-olds serving life without parole

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The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that 264 inmates sentenced to life without parole when they were 18 years old must have a new chance to argue for a reduced sentence, if not for freedom.

That’s because a 2-1 appeals court panel held an earlier decision that struck down life without parole sentences for 18-year-olds applies retroactively.

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In 2022, the Michigan Supreme Court held that sentences of automatic life without parole for 18-year-olds violate the state constitution. It left unanswered the question of whether the decision applied to people who were convicted of murder and were already serving life without parole sentences.

“If you were 18 and you were convicted of first-degree or felony murder and you were sentenced to mandatory life without parole, based on this decision, you are entitled to a resentencing,” said Maya Menlo,  an attorney with the State Appellate Defender Office who argued the case before the Michigan Supreme Court.

“No 18-year-old, regardless of whether they were sentenced in 1990 or 2000 or 2010 or 2023 or ’24 should be serving an unconstitutional penalty, an unconstitutional sentence like mandatory life without parole,” Menlo told Michigan Public Radio.

The defendant who brought this case, John Poole, was sentenced to life without parole almost 22 years ago following a conviction for first-degree murder in a fatal shooting.

Deborah LaBelle directs the ACLU’s Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative. She said the courts will have to consider factors required for defendants in more recent cases.

“Every 18-year-old who had been given a mandatory life without possibility of parole sentence, meaning they’ll die in prison, must be resentenced and it must be reconsidered what their age and the attendant characteristics had to do with the offense,” she said.

LaBelle also said the decision still allows judges to impose life-without-parole sentences for 18-year-old defendants at their discretion.

Appeals Court Judge Michael Riordan dissented, largely on procedural grounds. He wrote that the defendant did not make a case for reconsidering prior decisions.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 struck down automatic life with no chance for parole for juveniles 17 and younger.

Story by Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network

Other headlines for Friday, Jan. 19, 2024:

  • After months of delays, Wayne County’s new $616 million jail and courthouse complex is nearly complete, the Detroit Free Press reports.
  • The U.S. is amid its second largest COVID-19 surge, which the Centers for Disease Control is attributing to the new variant, JN.1.
  • The Detroit Lions will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field in the NFL’s playoff divisional match up on Sunday. The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy will be hosting a Lions Tailgate Celebration from noon to 7 p.m. at Valade Park.

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  • Hernz Laguerre
    Hernz Laguerre Jr. is a Multimedia Journalist at 101.9 WDET. He is one of the co-host for "Detroit Evening Report," one of the weekend anchors for "Weekend Edition," the producer for our political podcast, "MichMash," and reports on arts, culture and politics.