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Federal Judge Establishes Juvenile Lifer Parole Process

Clarkston Legal Nov. 28, 2013

In the wake of a pair of SCOTUS decisions, Graham vs Florida, and more recently, Miller vs Alabama, holding that state juvenile lifer statutes violate the 8th Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara ruled on Tuesday that the State of Michigan has to get serious and must take immediate action to comply with those decisions.

This federal judge has rolled-up his sleeves and has got down to some serious, serious business where these individuals are concerned.

Here is a summary of the requirements set out in Judge O’Meara’s tersely worded 2-page opinion. By December 31, 2013, the State of Michigan must:

  • Create an administrative structure for the purpose of processing and determining the appropriateness of paroles for prisoners sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed at juveniles;

  • Give notice to all such persons who have completed more than 10-years imprisonment that their eligibility for parole will be considered in a meaningful and realistic manner;

  • Schedule, on a fair and reasonable basis, proceedings including a public hearing for each of the eligible prisoners making application for consideration;

  • Put in place a process for preliminary determination of appropriateness of submission of each eligible prisoner’s application for parole to the entire Parole Board;

  • The proceedings, from an initial determination of eligibility will be fair, meaningful and realistic;

  • The Parole Board will, in each case, issue its decision and explain its decision determining the appropriateness vel non [Latin for “or not”] of parole. It will not issue a “no interest” Order or anything like a “no interest” Order;

  • There will be no vetoes by the sentencing judge or anyone else; and

  • As of the date this process begins, there will be no prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for a crime committed as a juvenile will be deprived of any educational or training program which is otherwise available to the general prison population.

Wow, those are some serious substantive rights for Michigan’s prisoners. In the event that the State of Michigan fails to establish the above procedures by the end of the year, Judge O’Meara also has ordered the appointment of a Special Master to carry out the federally mandated procedures.

For its part, the Michigan Attorney General has been focused on the families of the victims in these cases, arguing that the SCOTUS holdings in both Graham and Miller only should be applied prospectively, and not retroactively as argued by the criminal defense bar.

There are approximately 350 juvenile lifers doing time in Michigan prisons, most of whom are indigent and many of whom will be able to immediately take advantage of Judge O’Meara’s order. It is a good bet that the State Appellate Defenders Office is about to get really busy.