In Michigan, over 360 children have been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. In 2011 the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit in federal court challenging the practice as unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. In 2013 Judge John Corbett O’Meara agreed with the ACLU and ruled that all juveniles serving mandatory life sentences in Michigan must be given parole hearings. The state appealed. While the appeal was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a different case that juveniles serving life without parole must be resentenced. The Michigan legislature enacted a new law that would allow some youth to be resentenced to life without the possibility of parole, and set a harsh mandatory sentencing range for everyone else. In light of these new developments, in 2017 the Sixth Circuit ruled that we could no longer bring a categorical challenge to all life-without-parole sentences. However, in 2018 Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled that the new law’s harsh sentencing regime was an unconstitutional ex post facto law because it retroactively took away good-time credits that hundreds of class members had earned while serving their unconstitutional life sentences. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Judge Goldsmith’s ruling, which is giving hundreds of prisoners an earlier opportunity for release and will save taxpayers millions of dollars. Meanwhile, we are continuing to litigate claims that the state is unreasonably delaying constitutionally required resentencings and is denying access to the rehabilitative programming that is critical to parole. In June 2020 Judge Goldsmith denied the state’s motion for summary judgment on the programming claim, and in August 2020 he denied the state’s motion to dismiss the delay-in-resentencing claim. We have also joined the Juvenile Law Center in filing friend-of-the-court briefs in the Michigan Supreme Court arguing that life without parole is unconstitutional for 18-year-olds and life with the possibility of parole is unconstitutional unless important safeguards are in place to ensure that the opportunity for release is meaningful and realistic. (Hill v. Whitmer; People v. Stovall; People v. Manning; ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Dan Korobkin and Bonsitu Kitaba-Gaviglio, National ACLU Attorneys Steven Watt and Brandon Buskey, and co-counsel Deborah LaBelle; Marsha Levick and Karen Lindell of the Juvenile Law Center and Tessa Bialek of Quinnipiac University School of Law.) 

Key News and Documents

Take Action | Join our efforts to give Michigan children a second chance

More Info | Read profiles of our juvenile life clients

More Info | Read Second Chances: Juveniles Serving Life Without Parole in Michigan Prisons (pdf)

News | Federal Court Rules Juvenile Life Without Parole Lawsuit May Proceed

News | ACLU Lawsuit Challenges Life Without Parole For Michigan Juveniles

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