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Michigan bill would change life sentences for juvenile offenders

Juvenile offenders in Michigan who are serving life sentences in prison may be able to serve less time under a new proposed bill. The bill was proposed after the United States Supreme Court ruled last year that it was unconstitutional to have mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders.

Under the proposed bill, judges who issue sentences in Michigan in would be able to consider the offender's age and maturity at the time of the crime. The proposed bill would get rid of mandatory life sentence guidelines for juveniles and allow judges the discretion to sentence juvenile offenders to reduced sentences as well as life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.

The lawmaker who sponsored the proposed bill said that the state should not have a blanket policy for all juvenile offenders because not all crimes and not all offenders deserve the same punishment.

Another part of the bill would allow juvenile offenders currently serving life sentences to request a resentencing hearing in Michigan. If the resentencing hearing is granted, a judge would hear the case and determine whether or not the juvenile offender should be sentenced to life without parole, life with parole or a lower prison sentence.

Supporters of the proposed bill say that not all juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison deserve to be there. They said that in some cases, a juvenile offender who was at the scene of a murder or other violent crime may actually receive a harsher prison sentence than the offender who actually committed the crime due to plea bargains made by state prosecutors. Supporters say that not all juvenile offenders need to spend the rest of their life in prison and cite the Supreme Court ruling that it is a cruel and unusual punishment.

While there is a lot of support for the bill, opponents question the impact sentencing juvenile offenders would have on victims and their families. They also do not believe the Supreme Court ruling should be applied retroactively to juveniles who have already been sentenced or are serving mandatory life sentences.

If the proposed bill does pass, many juveniles could be impacted as Michigan currently has over 350 juvenile offenders serving mandatory life sentences.

Source: M Live, "Michigan juvenile lifers could be resentenced to less than life under new legislation," Jonathan Oosting, June 7, 2013

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