Michigan Supreme Court Curbs Excessive Youth Sentencing

In four decisions last week, the Michigan Supreme Court held that sentencing courts must consider how youth up to age 19 are constitutionally different from adult offenders for purposes of sentencing—and not just when they are subject to a life-without-parole sentence. Because of their “diminished culpability and increased prospects for reform,” the court explained, children are ineligible for the most severe punishment unless the prosecution proves otherwise by clear and convincing evidence.

Life Without Parole Is Presumptively Disproportionate for Children

A decade ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children under 18, holding that life without parole is an unconstitutionally excessive sentence for children whose crimes reflect “transient immaturity.”

The Court in 2016 reiterated that life without parole “is a disproportionate sentence for all but the rarest of children” and must be reserved only for those “whose crimes reflect irreparable corruption.”

In response, Michigan lawmakers enacted a new statute that eliminates mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children. Under that law, if a child is convicted of certain offenses, the prosecutor may file a motion seeking to have them sentenced to life without parole.

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