by Efren Paredes, Jr.
Advocates for prisoners who were sentenced to life without parole ("LWOP") for crimes they were convicted of committing when they were juveniles ("juvenile lifers"), recently created a new online petition proposing changes to their sentences.
In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory LWOP sentences for juveniles is unconstitutional in the case of Miller v. Alabama. The court acknowledged that children are different and have an enormous capacity for change.
Despite the court's ruling a patchwork of litigation ensued across the nation as a consequence of defiant state attorneys general who refused to acknowledge that the court's ruling had retroactive application.
According to many state attorneys general, the Miller case did not apply to cases that had already exhausted their appellate remedies; the vast majority of the 2,500 juvenile lifers nationwide.
It would take four years for the U.S. Supreme Court to finally settle the retroactivity issue in the case of Montgomery v. Louisiana in January 2016.
In its ruling the court held that unless a prosecutor can prove a defendant is "irreparably corrupt," and has no chance of ever being rehabilitated, s/he can not receive a LWOP sentence. Instead, s/he must be sentenced to a term of years.
The Change.org petition calls on the legislature to modify the existing Michigan statute governing first-degree murder cases for juvenile offenders to allow them to begin receiving meaningful parole consideration.
It asks lawmakers to revise the range of minimum sentencing guidelines, which currently allow a person to receive a 25- to 40-year minimum sentence, to be a flat 25-year minimum sentence. The maximum sentence of 60 years would remain the same.
The change would prevent the state from conducting 363 costly resentencing hearings at taxpayer expense for each prisoner affected. It would avert placing enormous burdens on county prosecutors, preserve limited state financial resources and prevent victim family members from having to experience additional potentially protracted, painful court hearings.
The Flint water crisis desperately needs taxpayer dollars and vast resources to remedy. There are many neglected infrastructure projects that need to be completed, and funding is needed to prevent further school closings.
Taxpayers are asking legislators to prioritize the state's resources to fund these three needs rather than allocating resources to be spent on avoidable resentencing hearings.
Revising the sentencing guidelines would give jurisdiction to the Parole Board over each juvenile lifer case. The Parole Board would review each case and only release juvenile lifers who would not pose a danger to society if released.
When people sign the petition a template letter is e-mailed to their state representative, state senator, and the Governor expressing support for the petition content. State legislators are selected by Change.org based on the zip code provided by the person signing the petition.
People can visit www.tinyurl.com/mijlwop2016 to view and sign the petition. You are encouraged to also share a link to the petition on Facebook, Twitter, and in e-mails and text messages.