DETROIT — A federal judge ruled Monday that Michigan must grant parole consideration to anyone convicted of murder as a juvenile, rejecting the state attorney general’s request that an earlier decision to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban on no-parole sentences for juveniles apply only to the convicts who challenged the state’s law.
Michigan has an automatic life-without-parole sentence for first-degree murder convictions and applies at any age.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that it is cruel and unusual punishment to deny parole consideration to those who are under 18 when convicted.
The state said at the time that it had more than 350 prisoners in that category, out of about 2,000 nationwide.
At issue is whether Michigan must retroactively comply with the Supreme Court decision in all cases or if it can limit it to future cases.
Acting on a 2010 lawsuit by nine Michigan prisoners who received no-parole sentences as juveniles, U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara in Ann Arbor ruled Jan. 30 that Michigan must allow the possibility of parole in cases where the defendant is under 18 when convicted.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on mandatory no-parole punishments while that lawsuit was pending.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a motion that Judge O’Meara’s decision apply only to those who brought the suit, while the ACLU asked that it apply to those now serving life without parole for convictions as juveniles.
Mr. Schuette’s office has contended that the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t automatically apply to past sentences, only to those sentenced since the 2012 high court ruling.
On Monday, Judge O’Meara rejected Mr. Schuette’s request and said the high court’s ruling applied to past as well as future sentences.
State prosecutors “believe they may enforce the statute, which the court has declared unconstitutional, with respect to other juveniles sentenced to life in prison,” the judge wrote. “As this court now makes clear, defendants are incorrect.”
“Every person convicted of first-degree murder in the state of Michigan as a juvenile and who was sentenced to life in prison shall be eligible for parole,” the judge said.
Schuette spokesman Joy Yearout said the attorney general “disagrees strongly” with the ruling and said it would subject victims’ families “to re-live horrible tragedies at future parole hearings for teenage murderers already sentenced by a jury of their peers to life in prison without parole.”
“Once a final order is entered in this case, Attorney General Schuette intends to file an immediate appeal,” Ms. Yearout said.
The ACLU praised Monday’s decision.
“Today’s order makes clear that every person sentenced to life without parole for a crime committed when they were a child is now eligible for parole,” ACLU lead attorney Deborah LaBelle said.
“As the court previously ruled ‘To hold otherwise would be to allow the state to impose unconstitutional punishment on some persons but not others, an intolerable miscarriage of justice.’”