For over a decade, the ACLU of Michigan has fought against Michigan’s cruel policy of allowing children to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. There is a second group that is often overlooked: children who were sentenced to life with the theoretical possibility of parole, but who are not given meaningful hearings, fair consideration, or a realistic shot at release when they become parole-eligible.
In December 2018 we joined the Juvenile Law Center in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the Michigan Supreme Court on behalf of Montez Stovall, who pled guilty when he was 17 years old to second-degree murder in order to avoid a first-degree conviction and sentence of life without parole. Ironically, had Stovall received the harsher sentence, he would now be eligible for resentencing to a shorter term because of the Supreme Court’s subsequent rulings.
In a series of opinions released in July 2022, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed with our position that the Michigan Constitution provides greater protections to youth facing life sentences. The Court held that a life sentence cannot be automatic for 18-year-olds, and judges must consider their youth at sentencing like they would for those under 18. The Court also held that for children charged with lesser, second-degree offenses, a life sentence (including with the possibility of parole) is categorically unconstitutional and cannot be imposed. Finally, in cases where prosecutors are still allowed to seek life-without-parole sentences for youth, the Court held that they must meet a “clear and convincing evidence” burden of proof. Hundreds of youth will now be eligible for resentencing based on these new, more protective, constitutional rules. (Hill v. Snyder; People v. Poole; People v. Stovall; People v. Taylor; ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Bonsitu Kitaba-Gaviglio and Dan Korobkin; National ACLU Attorneys Steven Watt and Brandon Buskey; co-counsel Marsha Levick and Riya Shah of the Juvenile Law Center, Tessa Bialek and Sarah Russell of Quinnipiac University School of Law, and Deborah LaBelle.)