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Sunday, April 2, 2023

Evidence-Based Reasons Efrén Paredes Jr. Should Receive Term-of-Year Sentence

by Necalli Ollin

Efrén Paredes Jr. is a 50-year-old Latinx man serving a life without parole (LWOP) sentence for a 1989 homicide and robbery that occurred in Berrien County, Michigan. He was arrested for the crime at age 15 and subsequently convicted by a Berrien County jury. To date he has spent 34 years (i.e., two-thirds of his life) behind bars.

Minors sentenced to LWOP are commonly referred to as "juvenile lifers."

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory LWOP sentences for justice-involved children are unconstitutional and granted sentencing courts discretion to begin resentencing minors to term-of-year sentences or LWOP. A LWOP sentence was no longer the only default sentence minors could receive for a capital offense.

Each state responded differently to the high court's ruling and in Michigan minors became eligible for a term-of-year sentence with a minimum sentence ranging from 25-40 years and a maximum sentence of 60 years.

While LWOP was still an option the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that the extreme sentences could only be imposed on minors who are irreparably corrupt or permanently incorrigible, meaning they must be incapable of change and rehabilitation for the remainder of their lives.

In 2021 Efrén was resentenced as a result of the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning mandatory LWOP sentences for minors. At his resentencing hearing Berrien County Trial Court Judge Charles LaSata resentenced Efrén to LWOP a second time despite compelling anecdotal and documented evidence of his capacity for change and rehabilitation.

On March 16, 2023 the Michigan Court of Appeals vacated the LWOP sentence and remanded Efrén's case for resentencing for a third time. The court cited LaSata's abuse of discretion as one of the reasons for its ruling. August 18, 2022 the appellate court cited judicial abuse of discretion in another case involving a juvenile lifer which LaSata presided over as well (i.e., People v. Mark Abbatoy, MCOA Docket No. 357766). Resentencing was also ordered in that case for a third time.

After two sentencing hearings that have been vacated in Efrén's case during the past 34 years the question now is what common sense, evidence-based reasons exist that he should receive a term-of-year sentence.

In recent years the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and psychologists have administered a series of actuarial risk assessment instruments to Efrén to determine his risk of violence, recidivism, and supervision levels, if he were to be released.

In addition to participating in actuarial risk assessment instrument testing Efrén has also voluntarily participated in monthly therapy sessions with psychologists and licensed mental health social workers during the past thirteen years. He has interfaced with these professionals 156 times at the time of this writing.

All of Efrén's therapy session reports have consistently indicated that his mental health is good, he is continually working to better himself, and he is creating and adhering to positive, realistic goals he sets to improve his life. Half of all citizens will experience a mental health issue in their lives, but only 13% will seek professional help. Efrén's willingness to seek help reflects his ability to recognize personal struggles and address them in a responsible way.

In her academic article titled, "Punishing Risk," Erin Collins, University of Richmond School of Law assistant professor, writes:

"Actuarial risk assessment tools are surveys that guide the inquirer through a series of questions about the presence or absence of recidivism risk factors in the subject. The inquirer allocates the subject a certain number of points for each factor, each of which is weighted according to the strength of its correlation with recidivism. Based on the total score, the subject is identified as having a 'low,' 'moderate,' or 'high' risk of recidivism."

She adds, "Thus, in the context of the criminal justice system, actuarial risk assessment is the process of using characteristics that statistically correlate with recidivism to predict who will or will not behave criminally in the future." (Erin Collins, "Punishing Risk," 107 Geo. L.J. 57, 64 (2018)).

Actuarial risk assessment instruments have been found to outperform human judgment in virtually all decision-making situations. Research shows that 88% of releasing authorities nationally use risk assessment instruments and judges in several states are using them for sentencing as well. The practice of using actuarial risk assessment tools to guide sentencing decisions has come to be known as "actuarial sentencing" or "evidence-based sentencing."

One of the actuarial risk assessment instruments Efrén has been administered by an MDOC psychologist is the Inventory of Offender Risk, Needs, and Strengths (IORNS). According to the test results Efrén's overall risk index is low. The results indicate that he has good mechanisms for regulating his behavior and managing anger, few treatment and supervision needs, and greater strengths and fewer risks/needs than 94% of prisoners. The test results also indicate he was honest and the results were valid.

The IORNS is the only actuarial risk assessment instrument that assesses all three factors (i.e., static, dynamic, and protective factors) important to recidivism. It provides a more comprehensive risk assessment than is currently available through concomitant assessment. The instrument consists of four indexes, eight scales, 14 subscales, and two validity scales.

Another actuarial risk assessment instrument Efrén has been administered is the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS). The COMPAS test results indicate his risk of violence, recidivism, and supervision levels are all low.

COMPAS is a comprehensive risks and needs assessment instrument widely used by Corrections departments and sentencing bodies across the nation, which takes into account both static information (such as the prisoner's past criminal offenses) and dynamic data (such as the prisoner's evolving attitudes and mental condition). The software generates a score ranking the offender's statistical likelihood of violence, recidivism, success on parole, and other factors.

 The COMPAS is a fourth generation risk assessment tool. Fourth generation of risk assessments seeks to "[m]aximize the offender's ability to learn from a rehabilitative intervention by providing cognitive behavioral treatment and tailoring the intervention to the learning style, motivation, abilities and strengths of the offender." (James Bonta & D. A. Andrews, "Risk-Need-Responsivity Model for Offender Assessment and Rehabilitation" 1 Public Safety Canada (2007)).

MDOC case managers also formulate a Transition Accountability Plan (TAP) for each incarcerated person to assist her/his reentry into society, and to assist the Parole Board in rendering parole decisions. The TAP instrument analyzes the person's risk factors, sets goals to decrease those risks, and establishes a plan for the person to reach their goals. Efrén's TAP results also reflect that his risk of violence, recidivism, and supervision levels are all low.

In addition to the actuarial risk assessment instruments Efrén has been administered he has also been given the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2) by an MDOC psychologist in recent years.

The MMPI-2 test results indicate Efrén has tendencies toward moralistic thinking, is sincere, and socially responsible. He prizes agreeableness, trust, and avoidance of conflict. The results also indicate he is receptive to treatment and wants to work on himself.

The MMPI-2 is, by far, the most common of all the psychological assessments employed, and can be a valuable tool in the assessment of those charged with or convicted of murder. (Kenneth S. Pope, Joyce Seelen & James Neal Butcher, "The MMPI-2, and the MMPI-A in Court: A Practical Guide for Expert Witnesses and Attorneys" 9 (2d ed. 1999)).

According to Dr. Richard Vickers, a licensed psychologist in private practice in New York who has administered and interpreted over 3,000 MMPI tests, the MMPI-2 is "highly reliable" and "well represented in the peer-reviewed literature, with approximately 250 MMPI-2 studies published per year" and its "Retest coefficients for 8 of the 10 basic scales surpass .80, and validity coefficients can approach 100%."

Juvenile lifers who have been released in Michigan also have an unprecedented less than one percent recidivism rate. This number ranks the lowest rate of all demographics of people released from prison. The national average recidivism rate for all people released from prison is 68%.

"In terms of risk to public safety, juvenile lifers can be considered low-impact releases." (Tarika Daftary-Kapur, Ph.D. & Tina M. Zottoli, Ph.D., "Re-sentencing of Juvenile Lifers: The Philadelphia Experience," 10, Montclair State University (2020)).

Efrén has been married ten years. He is also a proud and caring parent of two adult daughters and a school age daughter. During that time he has maintained a positive relationship with them and has actively assisted his wife foster a path of success for his youngest daughter's middle school educational experience.

The "association of marriage with lower crime among men has been widely reported in both quantitative and qualitative studies." (Nat'l Research Council of the Nat'l Acads., "Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration" 21 (2007)).

Research also shows that marriage and parenthood play a significant role in rehabilitation. "Marriage has the potential to radically change routine activities[.] ... [It] entails obligations that tend to reduce leisure activities outside of the family. ... Involvement in work and marriage reorders short-term situational inducements to crime and, over time, redirects long-term commitments to conformity." (John H. Laub & Robert J. Sampson, "Understanding Desistance from Crime," 28 Crime & Just. 1, 50-51 (2001)).

In her book titled, "When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry," author Joan Petersilia writes:

"Reviews of prisoners' family relationships yield two consistent findings: male prisoners who maintain strong family ties during imprisonment have higher rates of post-release success, and men who assume husband and parenting roles upon release have higher rates of success than those who do not."

Throughout the course of his incarceration Efrén has consistently yielded decades of anecdotal and documented evidence of change and rehabilitation. He has perpetually educated himself and completed every vocational, educational, and counseling programs available to him.

Efrén has also helped transform the lives of others inside and outside of prison. He has used the knowledge and skills he has acquired to assist both incarcerated peers and citizens in society use critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution to empower themselves to become better human beings and sound consequential thinkers.

In 2021 the Michigan Court of Appeals stated, "In the usual sense, 'rehabilitation' involves the successful completion of vocational, educational, OR counseling programs designed to enable a prisoner to lead a useful life, free from crime, when released." (emphasis added) (People v. Bennett, 335 Mich. App. 409, 426 (2021)). The evidence of Efrén's body of accomplishments support that he has achieved rehabilitation according to this standard.

In the same ruling the Michigan Court of Appeals stated that trial courts must "consider whether the defendant 'was and would remain WHOLLY incapable of rehabilitation for THE REMAINDER OF HIS LIFE [i.e., permanently incorrigible or irreparably corrupt.]'" (quoting People v. Garay, 320 Mich. App. 29, 49 (2017)) (Bennett, 335 Mich. at 418).

It added, "'Irreparable corruption,' is the ONLY ground [the U.S. Supreme Court] specifically identified for imposing a life-without-parole sentence [for a juvenile]. See [Miller v. Alabama], 567 U.S. at 479." (emphasis added) (Bennett, 335 Mich. App. at 420). ... "'[C]ourts are not allowed to sentence juveniles who are not irreparably corrupt to life without parole.'" (People v. Skinner, 502 Mich 89, 125 (2018)) (Bennett, 335 Mich. App. at 434).

A year later in July 2022 the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that sentencing courts must now begin their analysis of juvenile lifer cases from the premise that the person before them, like most children, has engaged in criminality because of transient immaturity, not irreparable corruption.

The state's high court added that when a prosecutor seeks to impose a LWOP sentence on a person for a crime committed when s/he was a minor, the prosecutor bears the burden to rebut a presumption that LWOP is a disproportionate sentence. The standard for the rebuttal is clear and convincing evidence.

The court concluded by stating, "If the prosecutor cannot shoulder [the] burden [of proof that LWOP is a disproportionate sentence for a minor] BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE, the trial court MUST sentence the defendant to a term of years." (emphasis added) (People v. Taylor, Mich. Sup. Ct. No. 154994, Decided July 28, 2022, slip op., at 20-21).

Efrén is not a candidate to receive a LWOP sentence according to well-established court precedent. His robust body of accomplishments spanning decades, lived experience as a husband and father, outpouring of support he has from a broad network of family members and friends, and actuarial risk assessment results that reflect his low risk of violence and recidivism, comprise substantial and compelling evidence-based reasons to conclude Efrén can be safely reintegrated back into society. He would not be a menace to society nor would he pose a danger or risk to public safety.

For all the aforementioned reasons Efrén should be resentenced to a term of years which will allow him to be afforded meaningful, realistic, and attainable release consideration by the Michigan Parole Board at some point in the future.

[To view a list of Efrén's accomplishments during his incarceration visit You can also learn more about Efrén by visiting]

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Mich. Appellate Courts Curb Death in Prison Sentences for Minors

by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

A decade after the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life without parole (LWOP) sentences for justice-involved children under age 18 ("juvenile lifers"), Michigan appellate courts are course-correcting years of arbitrary sentencing outcomes which have been an affront to the rule of law.

LWOP sentences are often referred to as a "death in prison" or "death by incarceration" sentences because a person who receives the extreme punishment is condemned to die in prison unless her/his sentence is commuted by the Governor which is unlikely to occur in most cases.

In multiple rulings during December 2022 the Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court (MSC) vacated the LWOP sentences of ten juvenile lifers and remanded them back to the trial court for resentencing. The MSC rulings stated in relevant part:

"A court may not impose a sentence of life without parole on a defendant who was under 18 years of age at the time of his crime unless the prosecution has overcome its burden to rebut the presumption, BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE, that life without parole is a disproportionate sentence." (emphasis in original text)

The MSC's "clear and convincing evidence" statement is a reference to a precedent-setting decision it issued in the summer of 2022 in the case of People v. Robert Taylor. [1]

The number of minors resentenced to LWOP in Michigan continues to decline as trial court judges overwhelmingly reject death in prison sentences. It is also declining because the small percentage of extreme sentences that are imposed by sentencing bodies are being vacated by appellate courts.


In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory LWOP sentences for minors under age 18 in its landmark Miller v. Alabama ruling. [2] The court reached its conclusion based on a robust body of social sciences and neurodevelopmental research which confirm that the human brain doesn't fully develop until the mid-20's and people's character and identity formation continues to change throughout their lives.

Researchers have found that the areas of the adolescent brain that are underdeveloped are responsible for impulse control, problem solving, resisting peer-pressure, and conducting a cost-benefit analysis of risky behavior. Teenagers focus on short-term consequences. They also lack the cognitive and psychosocial development to accurately predict future outcomes. Individually or collectively these traits can lead to engaging in criminal misdeeds.

In reaching its decision the U.S. Supreme Court replaced the mandatory component of sentencing children convicted of homicide crimes with a discretionary option. The change provides sentencing bodies discretion to impose term-of-year or LWOP sentences.

Term-of-year sentences allow people to be released one day if they are able to survive decades of incarceration.

The U.S. Supreme Court made it emphatically clear, however, that only minors who are "irreparably corrupt" (i.e., forever incapable of change and rehabilitation for the remainder of their lives) are candidates to receive a death in prison sentence. Any child who demonstrates the capacity for change and rehabilitation must be sentenced to a term of years.

It would be four more years before the U.S. Supreme Court would make the Miller ruling retroactive in 2016 in the case of Montgomery v. Louisiana, [3] making it applicable to all cases including those which had previously exhausted their direct appeals.


Since 2016 when juvenile lifer resentencing hearings began 287 of the total 363 Michigan juvenile lifers have received term-of-year sentences. The minimum sentence allowed ranges from a substantial 25 to 40 years. The maximum portion of the sentence is a mandatory 60 years (e.g., 25-60 years, 30-60 years, 40-60 years, etc.).

The average term-of-year sentence received has been 32.5 years and the average person has been nearly 45-years-old at the time of resentencing.

Seventy-six people still await having their LWOP sentences reviewed for resentencing consideration. There are also currently 11 remaining Michigan juvenile lifers originally sentenced to death in prison who received the sentence for a second time after their cases were considered for resentencing.

The latter individuals await an appeals court to vacate their sentences so they can be properly resentenced for a third time to a term of years.

Despite 79% of Michigan juvenile lifers who committed crimes between ages 14-17 being resentenced thus far Michigan has the shameful distinction of leading the nation as the state with the highest number of minors sentenced to LWOP.


As a soon to be 50-year-old juvenile lifer who has been incarcerated in Michigan since age 15 I've observed the enormous capacity for transformative change and rehabilitation incarcerated people possess. I know this not only through the prism of my own lived experiences as a husband and parent, but also through my personal interactions with thousands of other incarcerated people during the nearly 34 years I have spent behind bars.

Whether it's successfully completing self-help or rehabilitative educational, vocational, or counseling programs during their time caged in carceral exile, juvenile lifers are constantly evolving. Some more than others, and some quicker than others.

During times they struggle with their transformation it often occurs when they lack support, connection with the outside world, and/or struggle to find purpose and hope amid recurring thoughts of being condemned to breathe their last gasp of air alone behind prison walls.

Some of their beliefs have been reinforced by the painful reality that since 2012 seven juvenile lifers have died in prison while awaiting the opportunity to be released. Two of them died after being resentenced to a term of years.

Sentencing minors to death in prison is divorced from the reality that people can and do change. No adult is the same person they were in their teenage years. According to Mihailis E. Diamantis, author of the article, "Limiting Identity in Criminal Law:"

"Identity development never ceases: the persons adolescents will become are not the persons they will remain. The process of self-identification and redefinition lasts a lifetime." [4]

I've come to learn it's important not to define people by a single event in the spectrum of life -- neither by their worst mistake nor greatest success. Human beings are a culmination of their lived experiences. It makes more sense to measure people by the totality of their choices and experiences rather than a snapshot in time.


Five months ago the MSC stated, "A steady line of precedent from the Supreme Court could not be clearer -- persons under 18, as a group, are less culpable than adults, more prone to outside influence, and more likely to be rehabilitated. For these reasons and others, juveniles are 'less deserving of the most severe punishments.'" [5]

When we examine the lives of the 172 juvenile lifers who have been released from prison their recidivism rate ranks the lowest of any demographic released from Michigan prison at less than 1%. The national recidivism rate for all people released from prison is 68%. [6]

According to Preston Shipp, Senior Policy Counsel at the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth, "Nationwide, 935 formerly life-sentenced children and counting have been released back to society based on changes in the law." He adds, "They are now home, thriving, raising families, working, mentoring at-risk youth, and finding creative, imaginative ways to serve their communities."

This can be attributed not only to their capacity for change and rehabilitation, but also to the fact that in each instance it is the first time they will be afforded the opportunity to experience freedom for the first time in their adult lives.

They acknowledge the mercy bestowed upon them. They also bear the emotional and psychological scars of spending decades of their lives condemned to die in prison. To eschew returning to this horrific life they commit to becoming a better version of themselves by making prosocial choices and striving to become thoughtful, sound consequential thinkers.

A 2022 report titled, "White Paper on the Science of Late Adolescence: A Guide for Judges, Attorneys, and Policy Makers," found "[i]t is currently not possible to reliably predict an individual adolescent's future developmental trajectory based upon current presentation and past history." Additionally, "It is also currently scientifically impossible to reliably predict how much or how quickly an individual will change with age based on their presumed brain development, history, or current behavioral profiles." [7]

Juvenile lifers have repeatedly proven this research to be true. They have demonstrated they can change and do better if afforded the opportunity, even when sentencing courts originally misjudge them and make erroneous predictions that they will be forever irredeemable.


Twenty-five states across the country and the District of Columbia have banned death in prison sentences for justice-involved children. Nine other states have no one serving the sentence who was convicted as a minor. [8] This leaves Michigan among the 16 outliers who still impose the sentences.

Glaring racial sentencing disparities also exist between children of color and their white counterparts.

Prior to the landmark 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning mandatory LWOP sentences for minors, though children of color comprised 27% of the child population in Michigan they were 71% of the children sentenced to death-by-incarceration. [9] Since that time eleven of the new juvenile lifers sentenced to LWOP in Michigan -- or 73% -- have been children of color, reflecting no regard for decreasing racial sentencing disparities.

As a directly impacted person of color I know this all too well. As of December 29, 2022 I am the only Latino of the 11 remaining juvenile lifers resentenced to death in prison in Michigan who awaits being resentenced to a term of years.

Discriminatory sentences for similarly situated people violate the Equal Protection Clauses of the Michigan and U.S. Constitutions [10] and offend internationally recognized human rights treaties. Racialized harms committed by the criminal legal system against people of color are also largely responsible for fueling the scourge of mass incarceration.

A two-tiered legal system produces inequitable results by othering members of out-groups from marginalized and underserved communities. "The only surefire way to eliminate racial bias and arbitrariness in [Miller v. Alabama] sentencing is for states to ... eliminate life without parole for children[,]" according to Kathryn E. Miller, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law at Cardozo Law School. [11]


July 28, 2022 the MSC issued a ruling in People v. Parks, Docket No. 162086, which raised the age of minors entitled to the protections afforded in Miller v. Alabama to include persons 18 years of age. The high court is also asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to consider whether the state should raise the age to include late-adolescents up to 21-years-old which is widely supported by evolving brain science. [12]

The recent move by the MSC is an indicator that the high court is breaking away from decades-old beliefs about human evolution and making decisions informed by a dearth of evidence-based, twenty-first century scientific results.

Children receive a panoply of legal protections because society widely recognizes they are too developmentally immature to make the same responsible decisions as adults (e.g., purchase alcohol, vote, join the military, etc.). Their protections shouldn't abruptly end when they make irresponsible mistakes.

It is a universally recognized unmistakable fact that children are not adults. They are also a product of their environment they are typically unable to extricate themselves from no matter how pernicious it may be to them.

In the interest of public safety children rightly deserve to be held accountable for the harm they commit. However, the penalty should be proportional and developmentally aligned to their diminished culpability and still unformed character.

The criminal legal system should never treat minors as though they are miniature adults nor should children be subjected to the harshest punishments adult offenders are eligible to receive.


Weaponizing public fear to demonize children and justify harsh sentencing policies has proven to be an ineffective approach to deter people from committing crime. This is especially true as it relates to young people.

Society should invest more money and resources dealing with the root of the crime problem than on its symptoms if we are serious about preventing harm. Investments in education and community-based programs such as counseling, mentorships, and after-school programs provide far greater preventive measures against crime the earlier they are made available than the threat of warehousing bodies in cages.

In a 2017 Harvard Law Review article President Barack Obama wrote:

"How we treat citizens who make mistakes (even serious mistakes), pay their debt to society, and deserve a second chance reflects who we are as a people and reveals a lot about our character and commitment to our founding principles. ... [It] speaks to who we are as a society and is a statement about our values -- about our dedication to fairness, equality, and justice, and about how to protect our families and communities from harm, heal after loss and trauma, and lift back up those among us who have earned a chance at redemption." [13]

We would do well to meet this moment by utilizing the wisdom of President Obama as a torch to lead us out of a benighted era of extreme sentencing policies against justice-involved children into an enlightened era that recognizes "youth matters in sentencing." [14]

Archaic policies that eternally banish people to cages for youthful mistakes or bad behavior are antithetical to decency and human dignity. Promoting justice for minors means choosing life-affirming options like healing and restoration over destructive forces like hate and vengeance.

The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that only minors who demonstrate they are irreparably corrupt (i.e., forever incapable of change and rehabilitation) are candidates to receive death in prison sentences. However, asking sentencing judges to predict who is forever incapable of change and rehabilitation is an impossible task, as stated earlier.

Rather than ask sentencing bodies to engage in conjecture that will yield capricious results I invite the Michigan legislature to abolish death behind bars sentences for justice-involved children and join the majority of U.S. states which have replaced it with term-of-year sentencing options.

This humane policy change will provide minors with a meaningful, realistic, and achievable opportunity for release consideration later in their adult lives based on demonstrated change and rehabilitation. It's a common sense approach to justice for children that acknowledges all stakeholders in the legal process by creating space for both accountability and the possibility of redemption.

Most importantly it promotes equity, a hallmark of our criminal legal system we should strive to uphold each day.

(Efrén Paredes, Jr. is Co-Chair of the Michigan Poor People's Campaign. He is also a social justice changemaker who works at the intersection of decarceration, racial justice, and conflict resolution. You can read more of his writings or listen to his interviews by visiting



[1] - People v. Robert Taylor, MSC Docket No. 154994, decided July 28, 2022.

[2] - Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012).

[3] - Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. 190 (2016).

[4] - Mihailis E. Diamantis, "Limiting Identity in Criminal Law," 60 B.C. L. Rev. 2011, 2077 (2019).

[5] - People v. Robert Taylor, supra note 1, slip op at 17.

[6] - J.J. Prescott, Benjamin Pyle & Sonja Starr, "Understanding Violent-Crime Recidivism," 95 Notre Dame L. Rev. 1643, 1667 (2020).

[7] - Catherine Insel & Stephanie Tabashneck, "White Paper on the Science of Late Adolescence: A Guide for Judges, Attorneys, and Policy Makers" 39, Ctr. for Law, Brain, & Behavior (2022),

[8] - Josh Rovner, "Juvenile Life Without Parole: An Overview," The Sentencing Project, (May 24, 2021),

[9] - Connie de la Vega & Michelle Leighton, "Sentencing Our Children to Die in Prison: Global Law and Practice," 42 U.S.F. L. Rev. 983, 994 (2008).

[10] - Avery Katz, "'Black First, Children Second': Why Juvenile Life Without Parole Violates the Equal Protection Clause," 106 Minn. L. Rev. 2693, 2733-2737 (2022).

[11] - Kathryn E. Miller, "Resurrecting Arbitrariness," 107 Cornell L. Rev. 1319, 1357 (2022).

[12] - Insel & Tabashneck , supra note 7, at 7.

[13] - Barack Obama, "The President's Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform," 130 Harv. L. Rev. 811, 812, 866 (2017).

[14] - Jones v. Mississippi, 141 S. Ct. 1307, 1314-16 (2020).

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Efrén Paredes Jr. Interview Series About Being Re-sentenced to Die in Prison


by Necalli Ollin
The Injustice Must End (TIME)
During the last month Efrén Paredes, Jr. responded to questions regarding being resentenced to life without parole (LWOP) for a homicide and robbery he was convicted of when he was a minor. He also addressed a range of other questions about the Berrien County criminal legal system, racial injustice, and the current national conversation about crime and punishment.
Efrén is a 48-year-old Latinx man who was arrested at age 15 and subsequently convicted for the 1989 shooting death of a grocery store manager and robbery of the store in Berrien County, Michigan. He originally received two LWOP sentences for the murder and a parolable life sentence for the armed robbery. Since his arrest he has maintained he did not commit the crime.
Despite the myriad daily challenges he has faced being caged in Michigan prisons for over three decades Efrén continues to evince compelling evidence of his perpetual growth and change. The interview provides insight into his thinking and is a testament to his resilience and refusal to be broken by a system designed to crush the human spirit.
The interview is a must-read for anyone who has an incarcerated loved one serving a LWOP sentence for a crime they were convicted of when they were a minor. Policymakers and members of the general public can benefit from reading the interview to better understand why draconian LWOP sentences for minors is a failed, inhumane policy. It is also a great resource for scholars and educators who are studying and teaching about any of the subjects discussed.
Readers are encouraged to share this message in your social media network. Links to the four-part interview series appear below.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Judge Upholds Veritable Death Sentence for Efrén Paredes, Jr., Arrested for Crime at Age 15

 by Necalli Ollin

"Given the robust development of children's rights, it is   absurd to assert that, while juveniles have many rights,   being treated as a juvenile is not one of those rights."   (Cara H. Drinan, Professor of Law, The Catholic   University of America, "The Miller Trilogy and the   Persistence of Extreme Juvenile Sentences," 58 Am. Crim.   L. Rev. 1659, 1671 (2021)).

Friday, September 10, 2021, Berrien County Trial Court Judge Charles LaSata upheld a life without parole (LWOP) sentence for Efrén Paredes, Jr., a 48-year-old Latinx man, for a crime he was convicted of when he was a minor ("juvenile lifer"). It was the first time in the past thirteen months -- since August 2020 -- a Michigan judge had issued the sentence for a juvenile offender. Previous to the ruling the state had been trending away from the extreme sentence for minors. LaSata, a conservative Republican judge, has served on the bench since 2004.

According to statewide data, 251 of the 367 juvenile lifer cases have been resolved as of September 9, 2021. Of that number, 94% have received term of year sentences and only 6% have received a LWOP sentence again. Statewide, juvenile lifers have received sentences averaging 30.5 years. Nationwide the average sentence has been 25 years, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

Efrén was originally arrested at age 15 for the March 8, 1989 shooting death and robbery of a grocery store manager in St. Joseph, a small town in southwestern Michigan with a population of 9,214 people. He was the first juvenile in Berrien County to be automatically transferred to circuit court to be tried as an adult after passage of a 1988 Michigan law which authorized prosecutors to do so without a waiver hearing. Only three months after his arrest, Efrén was convicted by a jury composed of eleven white jurors and one African-American juror. He was subsequently sentenced to two LWOP sentences for one count of homicide and a parolable life sentence for one count of armed robbery. Judge Zoe Burkholz presided over the trial and delivered the sentence and, later, retired from the bench.

Three other juveniles were also convicted in the case. Eric Mui, a 17-year-old Asian-American, received two 18-45 year sentences for one count of murder and armed robbery. Alex Mui, a 16-year-old Asian-American, received an 18-45 year sentence for one count of armed robbery. Jason Williamson, a 16-year-old white teen, received a six month sentence in a juvenile facility for one count of armed robbery. All three received plea deals from the prosecutor's office. Eric and Alex Mui were released from prison after serving 16 years in prison and Williamson served six months. Efrén was the only person charged in the case who went to trial.


The U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in 2012, Miller v. Alabama, which banned mandatory LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders. Four years later in the case Montgomery v. Louisiana, the high court made the Miller ruling retroactive and applicable to juvenile offenders already serving the sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court also ordered that all juvenile offenders impacted by the ruling have their cases reviewed by a trial court judge from the respective county they were convicted in for resentencing consideration.

In 2016, then-Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic filed a motion with the trial court seeking to reinstate a LWOP sentence in Efrén's case. Sepic had originally prosecuted the case more than 32 years ago as an assistant prosecutor.

In 2020, Sepic retired as the county prosecutor. After his retirement, the newly elected county prosecutor, Steve Pierangeli, swore Sepic in as an assistant prosecutor so he could continue working on Efrén's case. In a December 30, 2020 interview with the local newspaper, The Herald-Palladium, Sepic referred to Efrén's case as the most memorable of his career. He expressed his fixation with the case despite there being a number of other cases in the county during the past 32 years involving multiple homicides and other charges.

October 5-6, 2020, LaSata held a two-day hearing for Efrén and his legal team to present evidence to the court as to why Efrén should receive a term of year sentence rather than LWOP. At the hearing, several witnesses testified on Efrén's behalf, presenting an abundance of compelling anecdotal evidence of his growth, change, and rehabilitation. Other documentation was presented showing a wide range of programs he has successfully completed during his three decades of incarceration. Sepic was allowed to present evidence at the hearing as to why he felt a LWOP sentence was justified.


In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in its Miller v. Alabama ruling that "incorrigibility is inconsistent with youth." (Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 472-473 (2012) (quoting Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 72-73 (2010)). The Court later added "Miller [v. Alabama] determined that sentencing a child to life without parole is excessive for all but the 'rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption' or 'permanent incorrigibility.'" (Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718, 733-734 (2016) (quoting Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 479-80 (2012)). "Permanent incorrigibility" in this context is defined as "rare" juvenile offenders "who exhibit such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is IMPOSSIBLE ..." and they are forever incapable of change. (emphasis added) (Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718, 733-34 (2016)).

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, "The same characteristics that render juveniles less culpable than adults -- their immaturity, recklessness, and impetuosity -- make them less likely to consider potential punishment." (Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 472 (2012)).

"[O]rdinary adolescent development diminishes the likelihood that a juvenile offender 'forever will be a danger to society.' (Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460. 472 (2012) (quoting Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 72 (2010)." (Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718, 733 (2016)).

The Court previously also stated that "[t]he evolving nature of their identities undermines the conclusion that ANY juvenile [is] 'irretrievably depraved in character.'" (emphasis added) (Roper v. Simmons, 125 S. Ct. 1183, 1195 (2005) (quoting Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815, 835 (1988)).


The September 10th LaSata ruling underscores glaringly obvious racial bias and disparate treatment between the way he applied applicable U.S. Supreme Court opinions in the cases of the two juvenile lifers on his docket.

Mark Abbatoy, a white male who was 17 at the time of his arrest, was the other juvenile lifer whose case LaSata reviewed. A brief overview of the details of the crimes Efrén and Abbatoy were convicted of is as follows:

Efrén was convicted of shooting a store manager four times and robbing the store where he and the victim were both employed. The victim was a 28-year-old white male named Richard Tetzlaff. There were no eyewitnesses to the crime and no arrests were made in connection with the crime until a week after it occurred. Sepic relied heavily on the testimony of 16-year-old Alex Mui to convict Efrén. Mui, who admitted being involved in the crime, received a plea deal from Sepic to drop his murder charge in exchange for agreeing to testify against Efrén. Four alibi witnesses have attested to Efrén's whereabouts at the time the crime was committed which is corroborated by forensic evidence that disproves he committed the crime. In recent years new witnesses have also provided sworn affidavits that Mui and others convicted in the case admitted to lying about Efrén's involvement in the crime to evade murder charges. Since his March 15, 1989 arrest Efrén has maintained his innocence and denied any involvement in the crime.

The circumstances of the Abbatoy crime were that he and another 17-year-old killed Abbatoy's mother in 1997 so they could steal her car. According to a March 22, 2021 court hearing transcript in the Abbatoy case, LaSata described the tragic event by stating: "Defendant [Abbatoy] was incredibly brutal and depraved. The defendant beat [the victim] with a shovel for ten to fifteen minutes. The defendant struck the victim at least ten times with a shovel. ... Three to four blows [were] so forceful that they fractured her skull embedding nine fragments of bone into her brain." LaSata added that while the victim was being beaten, Abbatoy ripped the phone from the wall so she couldn't call anyone for help.

When juxtaposing the Efrén and Abbatoy cases there are other notable differences, such as the following:

Court records show Efrén had no juvenile adjudications prior to the crime he is serving time in prison for. Abbatoy had three previous juvenile adjudications. According to Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) records, Efrén has received 19 misconduct reports in 32.5 years (an average of 0.06 per year) while Abbatoy has accrued 51 misconduct reports in 24 years (an average of 2.2 per year).MDOC data reflects that the average person incarcerated in a Michigan prison averages 2.2 misconduct reports per year. Abbatoy was in the average range and Efrén fell far below the range.

Evidence was also presented in court by Efrén's legal team that the average number of misconduct reports received by juvenile lifers from Berrien County who have been resentenced is 34.5. One Berrien County juvenile lifer received 80 misconduct reports and was not resentenced to LWOP.During their mitigation court hearings, attorneys for Efrén and Abbatoy presented anecdotal and documented evidence of accomplishments and rehabilitation during their incarceration.

Efrén's legal team was able to submit substantially more evidence in this regard, however, because of his successful completion of more educational, vocational, and counseling programs since he has been incarcerated eight years longer than Abbatoy.

Both Efrén and Abbatoy are also housed in the lowest security level allowed in the MDOC due to the sentences they are serving (i.e., Level 2). During Abbatoy's March 22 court hearing, LaSata specifically referenced this on the record as one of the reasons he granted Abbatoy a term of year sentence.


Attorneys in both Efrén's case and the Abbatoy case also cited a published Michigan Court of Appeals ruling made earlier this year named People v. Bennett, 2021 Mich. App. LEXIS 472. In 1972, David Bennett, age 17, was convicted of stabbing a woman in Wayne County dozens of times resulting in her death and sentenced to LWOP. Bennett was subsequently resentenced to LWOP on June 5, 2020 by a Wayne County trial court judge who reviewed the case to consider possible resentencing pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court Miller v. Alabama ruling.

The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the trial court ruling in the Bennett case on January 21, 2021. In doing so the appeals court stated that trial courts must decide "whether [a] defendant 'was and would remain WHOLLY incapable of rehabilitation for THE REMAINDER OF HIS LIFE[.]'" (emphasis added) Failure to do so constitutes an abuse of discretion subject to reversal. (People v. Bennett, at *9) (quoting People v. Garay, 320 Mich. App. 29, 49 (2017)).

The Bennett ruling provided lower courts with clear guidance about evaluating juvenile lifer cases for capacity for change and rehabilitation.

According to the Michigan Court of Appeals, "'rehabilitation' involves the successful completion of vocational, education, OR counseling programs designed to enable a prisoner to lead a useful life, free of crime, when released." (emphasis added) (People v. Bennett, at *19).

Efrén's legal team provided the court a robust body of anecdotal and documented evidence of his successful completion of each of these examples a multiplicity of times. They also provided results from psychological tests and actuarial risk assessment instruments that reflect Efrén poses a low risk of violence or recidivism if released.

Letters of support from three retired MDOC career professionals with decades of corrections experience (i.e., a former Warden, corrections officer, and Efrén's employer of thirteen years) attesting to his capacity for change and rehabilitation, as well as letters from multiple professors from universities who taught classes Efrén participated in at various prisons, were provided to the court as well.

The Michigan Court of Appeals stated in the Bennett case "[t]o the extent that the resentencing court made a factual finding regarding Bennett's risk of reoffending, it was clearly erroneous because no evidence supported it. Nor did any evidence support any other ground for Bennett's continued incarceration."

The court concluded, "Accordingly, we reverse and remand for resentencing to a term of years based on the present record and consistent with MCL 769.25(9). We further instruct that the resentencing be conducted with all deliberate speed." (People v. Bennett, at *30-*31).

At Abbatoy's March 22, 2021 court hearing, LaSata stated on the record that the Bennett ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals is "a published decision binding on this court." LaSata would go on to properly apply U.S. Supreme Court precedent and the Bennett opinion to the Abbatoy case and issue a fair ruling. He dismissed retired prosecutor Sepic's motion seeking a LWOP sentence against Abbatoy and agreed to resentence him to a term of years.


Less than six months after issuing his principled ruling in the Abbatoy case, LaSata abandoned U.S. Supreme Court precedent and the Bennett decision by issuing an unintelligible ruling upholding a LWOP sentence in Efrén's case. Much of the oral opinion delivered by LaSata parroted retired prosecutor Sepic's previous talking points related to the case. LaSata began his ruling by stating that part of his reason for upholding a LWOP sentence in Efrén's case is that he has maintained his innocence since the time of arrest.

The Michigan Supreme Court has previously ruled that "a court cannot base its sentence EVEN IN PART on the defendant's refusal to admit guilt." (emphasis added) (People v. Hatchett, 477 Mich. 1061 (2009); People v. Jackson, 474 Mich. 996 (2006)). The state's high court has also held that "[i]t is a violation of due process to punish a person for asserting a protected statutory or constitutional right." (People v. Ryan, 451 Mich. 30, 35 (1996)).

The case of a Berrien County man named Corey Quentin McCall was vacated on June 25, 2021 and he was released after spending 16 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. LaSata was the district court judge responsible for a 2005 ruling that found there was sufficient evidence to bound the McCall case over to the circuit court to be tried for three counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

Without question LaSata is acutely aware that errors occur in the criminal justice system. His own decision-making resulted in a wrongful conviction. Despite this experience, however, LaSata elected to dismiss the possibility that errors occurred in Efrén's case and he ruled against him for asserting his constitutional right to maintain his innocence.

Another error LaSata committed in Efrén's case was citing the circumstances of the crime as a reason to justify a LWOP sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the heinousness of a crime cannot by itself be offered as evidence of the character of the juvenile. The high court explained that looking at the offense alone would present an "'unacceptable likelihood ... that the brutality or cold-blooded nature of any particular crime would overpower mitigating arguments." (Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 78 (2010) (quoting Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 572 (2005)). The Court also affirmed "the truth of [Miller v. Alabama's] central intuition -- that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change." (Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718, 736 (2016)).

Another issue LaSata had to consider was whether Efrén being 15 years old at the time of arrest was a mitigating factor that counseled against a LWOP sentence in his case. LaSata not only ignored U.S. Supreme Court precedent regarding this factor, his reasoning for concluding that Efrén's age was not a mitigating factor was also divorced from common sense, extensive adolescent development research, and brain science that informs us children possess an enormous capacity for change and rehabilitation.

The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that "the chronological age of a minor is itself a relevant mitigating factor of great weight ..." in assessing culpability. (Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 116 (1982)). Adolescents are more prone to risk-taking and impulsivity -- traits that likely influence their criminal conduct -- and are not yet mature enough to anticipate the future consequences of their actions. (Laurence Steinberg et al, "Age Differences in Future Orientation and Delay Discounting," 80 Child Dev. 28, 35 (2009)). The prefrontal cortex is essential for both impulse control and decision-making in complex or high-stress situations and "the fact remains that young people between the ages of eight and twenty-five do not have fully-developed capacity to control impulses and make rational choices." (David Pimentel, "The Widening Maturity Gap: Trying and Punishing Juveniles As Adults in An Era of Extended Adolescence," 46 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 71, 84 (2013)). The U.S. Supreme Court stated that "because juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform ... 'they are less deserving of the most severe punishments.'" (Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 471 (2012), (quoting Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 68 (2010)).

While issuing his ruling, LaSata cited decades-old prison rule infractions and alleged violations to justify his decision as well. Some included allegations of misconduct that was not substantiated by MDOC reports or that have been disproven. Included in LaSata's list of infractions was that Efrén fathered a child nearly twelve years ago with a former staff member who was employed at a prison where he was being housed at the time. Efrén and his child's mother subsequently became married and remain so today. According to LaSata, this human act between two consenting adults "violated all kinds of prison rules." Efrén, however, never received a misconduct report for any rule violation related to the incident by MDOC staff.

Richard Stapleton, a retired MDOC Hearings Division Administrator, testified at Efrén's October 2020 mitigation hearing that any misconduct allegations in his file which were not accompanied by official misconduct reports should have been purged from the file. Therefore, the allegations should not have been considered by the court during the mitigation process.

A vast majority of the more than 200 juvenile lifers who have been resentenced received dozens of misconduct reports while incarcerated and it did not prevent judges from replacing their LWOP sentences with term of year sentences. "'A sentencing judge's exercise of discretion must be based on accurate information.' (People v. Smith, 423 Mich. 427, 448; 378 NW2d 384 (1985)). 'This is a due process requirement.' (People v. Miles, 454 Mich 90, 100; 559 NW2d 299 (1997))." (People v. Bennett, *30) Ignoring the corrections expert's testimony and defiantly using erroneous and inaccurate information to uphold a LWOP sentence in Efrén's case was a clear abuse of discretion.

LaSata also begrudgingly acknowledged a number of Efrén's accomplishments throughout his incarceration, as well as his large support system. But while he described Efrén as "intelligent, charismatic, and diligent," he also characterized him as manipulative. He dismissed three decades of Efrén completing rehabilitative programming, enriching the lives of others, participating in therapeutic counseling for the past eleven years, and numerous other achievements by theorizing it "may have" all been simply to receive "opportunities." Part of the reason the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the LWOP sentence in the Bennett case was that the sentencing court "resorted to a purely theoretical and uncertain prediction" about his future dangerousness. (People v. Bennett, at *30). As he delivered his ruling LaSata never presented a modicum of evidence that Efrén "was and would remain WHOLLY incapable of rehabilitation for THE REMAINDER OF HIS LIFE[.]" (emphasis added) (People v. Bennett, at *9) (quoting People v. Garay, 320 Mich. App. 29, 49 (2017)).


Seated from the perch of his position of privilege, LaSata punctuated the bias he exhibited in Efrén's case by attempting to manufacture the sordid false narrative that racial injustice and the mistreatment of people of color has never existed in St. Joseph. During his September 10 ruling, LaSata remarked he did not believe Efrén's claim of ever being subjected to episodes of ethnic slurs, bullying, and shaming growing up as a brown boy in a majority white community. The year of Efrén's arrest the city of St. Joseph was 94% white residents. Blacks made up 3% of the population and the Latinx population was a mere one percent.

LaSata made his abysmal statement bereft of any evidence being presented in court by the prosecutor's office to disprove the anti-brown or Latinx experiences Efrén encountered growing up due to his ethnicity. His statement was an insult to people of color and offended the sensibilities of any person who has not been tone deaf to the racial reckoning the nation has been undergoing during the past year since the police killing of George Floyd. It is also acutely obvious to any person of color who has ever visited or lived in the St. Joseph area, which also happens to be home to the Berrien County Courthouse and jail.

This was all very personal for LaSata who served as a commissioner for the city of St. Joseph from 1991 to 1995. He was elected as mayor of the city from 1995 to 1998 and also served in the Michigan House of Representatives for the district from 1999 to 2005. His wife, Kimberley LaSata, currently serves the district in the Michigan State Senate.

Berrien County has seated white judges on the bench and white males have occupied the prosecutor's office since its inception. This is true of other Michigan counties as well which has vastly contributed to the acute racial sentencing disparities. "Children of color are 27% of the child population [in Michigan] and 71% of children serving LWOP sentences." (Connie de la Vega & Michelle Leighton, "Sentencing Our Children to Die in Prison: Global Law and Practice," 42 U.S.F. L. Rev. 983, 994 (2008)).

To many folks, LaSata's ruling in Efrén's case was a modern day legal lynching.


While LaSata's refusal to render a fair ruling was designed to deny Efrén a meaningful opportunity for release consideration, the judge also set in motion a chain of events likely to produce profound unintended consequences.

Not only did LaSata carve out a clear path for Michigan appellate courts to vacate his unwarranted ruling, he also set the stage for Efrén's defense team to mount a constitutional challenge to MCL 769.25(a), the law that allows sentencing courts to condemn juvenile offenders to prison for life. He proved that some sentencing bodies -- though in the minority -- will go rogue and refuse to fairly apply landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings to juvenile lifer cases being reviewed for resentencing consideration. Some will also lack the moral courage to do so. LaSata's nod to the prosecutor's office could now result in abolishing a LWOP sentence not only for Efrén but also for the other remaining juvenile lifers awaiting resentencing hearings who could benefit from a favorable appellate ruling in his case.

Since 2012, thirty-one states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia have abandoned the practice of sentencing children to die in prison or have no juvenile offenders serving a LWOP sentence according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. "[O]nly thirteen states have not substantially narrowed the application of LWOP to juveniles through statutory reform or by a lack of sentencing in practice." (Elizabeth C. Kingston, "Validating Montgomery's Recharacterization of Miller: An End to LWOP for Juveniles," 38 U. La Verne L. Rev. 23, 51 (2016)). A growing consensus of states have embraced the U.S. Supreme Court's view that LWOP sentences for juveniles are inhumane, draconian, and "akin to the death penalty." (Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 2466 (2012)).


"Prominent leaders have spoken publicly about the cruelty, inhumanity, and general senselessness of juvenile LWOP in the years since the Miller [v. Alabama] decision." (Cara H. Drinan, Professor of Law, The Catholic University of America, "The Miller Revolution," 101 Iowa L. Rev. 1787, 1831-1832 (2016)).

According to Linda Ross Meyer, author of "Forgiveness and Public Trust," 27 Fordham Urb. L.J. 1515, 1539 (2000): "[P]eople do not exist in an eternal moment ... [they] are constantly changing their minds, projecting new actions into the world, learning and growing. We cannot reduce them to one moment only, to one crime or one good deed."

Behavioral experts have found that no evidence exists that personality ever ceases to change during a person's lifetime. (Avshalom Caspi & Brent W. Roberts, "Personality Development Across the Life Course," 12 Psychol. Inquiry 49, 51 (2001)).

Evidence also exists that personality traits change gradually and systematically throughout the life span, sometimes more after age 30 than before. (Sanjay Srivastava et al., "Development of Personality in Early and Middle Adulthood," 84 J. Personality & Soc. Psychol. 1041, 1051 (2003)).

The fact that "most mean-level personality-trait change occurs between ages [twenty] and [forty] ... opens a new area of focus in developmental science." The research further demonstrates that humans remain an "open system" throughout life, susceptible to change at the fundamental level of personality. (Brent W. Roberts & Daniel Mroczek, "Personality Trait Chance in Adulthood," 17 Current Directions Psychol. Sci. 31, 33 (2008)).

According to a 2009 amicus brief from the American Psychological Association et al., "Brain maturation continues into the mid-twenties and the brain is plastic and always changing." (Brief for the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers, and Mental Health America as Amici Curiae Supporting Petitioners at 24-27, Graham v. Florida, 558 U.S. 811 (2009) (Nos. 08-7412, 08-7621, 2009 WL 2236778)).


At the conclusion of Efrén's September 10 court ruling LaSata stated, "I'll be able to sleep well tonight knowing this case is being appealed." LaSata knew he abjectly failed to discharge the duties of his office and fairly apply the law in Efrén's case which resulted in a grave miscarriage of justice. By wilfully rendering an arbitrary and unreasonable ruling he abdicated his judicial responsibility to the appellate court to properly resolve the case.

In his address to the delegates of the International Association of Penal Law on October 23, 2014 Pope Francis stated:

"All Christians and men of good will are called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also in order to improve prison conditions, with respect for the human dignity of the people deprived of their freedom. And I link this to life imprisonment. A short time ago the life sentence was removed from the Vatican's Criminal Code. A life sentence is just a death penalty in disguise."

Most conservative Republican judges take pride in being guided by their faith. They are also textualists who have a reverence for constitutional original meaning. Textualism is supposed to be politically neutral and offer protection against ideological judgement as a way to separate the law from politics. LaSata chose to weaponize the law and betray his fidelity to principles of conservatism in Efrén's case by replacing them with his own brand of gross judicial negligence that ignores the concept of redemption and the inherent dignity of young people. Fortunately there are appellate courts to review decisions rendered by sentencing bodies who violate their oath of office and put politics before the rule of law. The Judicial Tenure Commission is tasked with reviewing claims of judicial misconduct as well.


In her academic journal article titled "All But the Rarest of Children," 62 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol'y 227, 242 (2020), author Allison M. Scoggin argues: "[T]he [U.S. Supreme] Court insists that only 'the rare juvenile offender who exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is IMPOSSIBLE and life without parole is justified' can be sentenced to life without parole. [Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718, 733 (2016)]. Thus, if there is ANY evidence that the offender could mature or be rehabilitated over time -- and the Court points out that 'all but the rarest of children' is capable of such growth [Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718, 726 (2016)] ] -- a life without parole sentence is disproportionate and therefore unconstitutional." (emphasis added).

During the past 32 years Efrén has utilized his choice architecture and tireless pursuit of education to continue expanding his horizons, building understanding of the wider world, honing analytical and communication skills, and fostering responsibilities beyond self. The abundance of anecdotal and documented evidence of Efrén's enormous capacity for growth, change, and rehabilitation disqualifies him as a candidate for a LWOP sentence. It is also supported by myriad adolescent development and brain science studies that directly contradicts LaSata's court ruling in Efrén's case. Simply disliking Efrén or having disdain for him doesn't make him any less capable of change and rehabilitation.

After having spent more than two-thirds of his life behind bars Efrén deserves to receive a term of year sentence like the overwhelming majority -- ninety-four percent -- of other similarly situated juvenile lifers who have been resentenced across the state.

The Michigan Court of Appeals made it abundantly clear in the Bennett case that "'[i]rreparable corruption,' [i.e., forever having no capacity for change] is the ONLY ground [the U.S. Supreme Court] specifically identified for imposing a life-without-parole sentence [for a juvenile offender]. See Miller [v. Alabama], 567 U.S. at 479 (2012)." (emphasis added) (People v. Bennett, at *10).

If the Bennett ruling is, in the words of LaSata, "a published decision binding on this court" which lead to him rejecting a LWOP sentence in the Abbatoy case, it is likewise "binding" on him to fairly, equally, and proportionally reach the same ruling in Efrén's case as well.

The appellate court should jettison LaSata's irrational and unconstitutional ruling in Efrén's case as it did in the Bennett case when it held: "We reverse and remand for resentencing to a term of years based on the present record and consistent with MCL 769.25(9). We further instruct that the resentencing be conducted with all deliberate speed." (People v. Bennett, at *30-*31).




To read an earlier series titled "Unpacking the Notion of Rehabilitation in the Case of Efrén Paredes, Jr. (Part 1-5)" outlining additional evidence and reasons he is not a candidate for a LWOP sentence you can visit the following links:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5