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Juvenile lifer bills get first House committee hearing

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Michigan House bills to ban life sentences for anyone aged 18 and under are set for a committee hearing this morning.

Under the new bills, the longest sentence youths could receive would be 60 years. They’d have the possibility for parole after 10 years.

Representative Amos O’Neal(D-Saginaw) said this is an effort to give people an opportunity for redemption.

“You make a bad decision at 14, should that plague you for the rest of your life?” O’Neal said. "People make bad choices at their early stages in life. They are different persons from 14 and 15 than they are at 45 and 50.”

Though the bills have bipartisan sponsorship, they’re receiving pushback from both some lawmakers and prosecutors.

Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan President-elect Jeff Getting said the 10-year minimum sentence outlined in the bills is too short for extreme cases, like school shootings.

“Regardless of the number of persons killed or the planning that went into it … that murderer would have a parole hearing in ten years,” Getting said.

O’Neal said there are plans to create "carveouts" for those sorts of "heinous crimes," and the proposed legislation doesn’t mean people would get out of prison.

“The decisions are still left up to the parole office — the board. So, a lot of folks have this misnomer that after 10 years, this person’s going to be free. That’s not the case,” he said.

The bills would bring Michigan law more in line with state and federal court rulings banning automatic life sentencing for minors. The state has been resentencing people since courts ruled the 2012 federal Montgomery v. Louisiana decision applied retroactively.

Getting and state Representative Graham Filler (R-Clinton County) said that’s sufficient as far as addressing the resentencing issue goes.

But Filler said another problem he has with the bills is the possibility for victims to have to relive the crimes they faced.

“Whenever there’s a re-sentencing, there’s a revictimization because many times the parole board will meet with the victim, will hold a meeting, will meet with the juvenile lifer, and dredge it all up again,” Filler said.

The House bills appearing before the House Criminal Justice Committee today at 9 a.m. are similar to Senate bills that got a hearing last month.

Senate Fiscal Agency analysis for the mirror bills notes the proposed legislation would lead to around 350 more people sentenced to life under the age of 19 being resentenced, with the new possibility of parole.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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