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Appeals court says 18-year-olds sentenced to life without parole will get new hearings


The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that 264 inmates sent to prison when they were 18 years old for life with no chance of parole 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.

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 Riordon 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.

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Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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