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Michigan Supreme Court To Hear Arguments On Juvenile Lifer Cases

Jan 26, 2017

Michigan Supreme Court Building
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about how the state handles juvenile life without parole cases.  


The court will determine who should get to decide if a juvenile is sentenced to life without parole – judges or juries. 

The courts have gone back and forth on this decision.  At one point, a special conflict panel was put together by the Michigan Court of Appeals because panel judges were making conflicting decisions.  They said judges should decide.  

Juvenile inmate advocates say juries should make the ultimate decision.  But prosecutors have argued that a judge is in the best position to decide whether a juvenile deserves life without parole. 

Michael Wendling is the Prosecuting Attorney for St. Clair County.  He said it will be the same process whether a judge or jury makes the decision, but sentences are historically decided by the court. 

“And I think judges who are trained and know how to make this type of decision in a sentencing case and come to a result can handle that process more efficiently and probably more judicially,” he said. 

But advocates for juveniles disagree.  Kim Thomas is an attorney for Tia Skinner, a defendant in one of the cases the Michigan Supreme Court is looking at.  She said juveniles have a Sixth Amendment right to have a jury decide their sentences.   

“You know you think about the idea that there’s this extraordinary increased sentence – in this case life without parole – and that we would want people in the community to make that determination that the person would be eligible for that greater sentence,” she said. 

The Michigan Supreme Court invited the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan to file briefs in the case.

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—Cheyna Roth is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org