Juvenile sentencing guidelines amended in Michigan

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation into law on Tuesday that amends sentencing procedures for juvenile defendants and brings the state’s standards in line with federal standards.

Under Michigan Senate Bill 319 and House Bill 4308, juvenile offenders who are convicted of first degree murder, felony murder or as a repeat offender in certain sexual assault cases can no longer receive automatic life sentences without the possibility of parole.

“These changes will ensure Michiganders of all ages receive a fair trial while aligning our state justice system with federal law,” Snyder said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that mandatory life sentences for juveniles without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional. Michigan Deputy Solicitor General Eric Restuccia, however, said juveniles could still be sentenced to life without parole if the proper procedure is followed.

A default sentence with a minimum of 25 to 40 years and a maximum of 60 years was established under the 2012 ruling. Prosecutors are able to submit a request for life without parole within 21 days of a juvenile’s conviction, and the court then weighs both options before making a determination.

There are currently 368 people serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in Michigan who were convicted of murder as teenagers.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said the high court’s ruling is not retroactive and should not apply to those who were convicted of murder as teens and sentenced to life without parole.

The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed with Schuette in a recently ruling. The case is currently pending before the Michigan Supreme Court.