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.
U.S. SUPREME COURT INTERVENES
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.
ELIGIBILITY FOR LWOP SENTENCES
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.
RECENT MICH. APPELLATE COURT RULING
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.
LASATA RULES IN EFREN'S CASE
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)).
LASATA UNDERSCORES RACIAL INJUSTICE
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.
UNLOCKING OPPORTUNITIES FOR OTHERS
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)).
FOREVER INCAPABLE OF CHANGE?
"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)).
WOEFULLY MISSING THE MARK
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.
DESERVING OF SECOND CHANCE
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: