March 6, 2014
LANSING - Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced his office will present oral arguments before the Michigan Supreme Court arguing that a recent U.S. Supreme Court addressing the sentences of convicted teenage murderers does not apply retroactively.
"First degree murder is a serious crime, and it carries with it serious consequences," said Schuette. "Considering even the possibility of new parole hearings for these convicted teen murderers will force victims' families to relive the deaths of their loved ones. The integrity of our justice system demands crime victims and their families come first."
The Michigan Supreme Court today is set to hear three cases regarding juveniles convicted of first-degree murder sentenced to life in prison without parole in three cases including, People v. Carp, People v. Davis, and People v. Eliason. Schuette's office is presenting arguments in People v. Carp.
Schuette's People v. Carp brief includes the following excerpts:
"...[T]he more than 300 offenders serving a mandatory life sentence for committing first-degree murder while teenagers are some of the most dangerous in Michigan. More than 80 of these offenders were sentenced to life without parole more than 25 years ago, with the oldest reaching back 50 years to 1962. The community's interest in finality weighs heavily here. The ability of a trial court to consider the factors listed in Miller for these cases is seriously limited." (p.1)
"James Porter brutally murdered a mother and her four children, including a ten-year boy in 1982 when Porter was 16 years old; he was sentenced to life without parole in 1983. Now that Porter is almost 50 years old, the individual considerations for Miller for the crime committed 30 years ago—whether Porter's "immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks" along with his "family and home environment that surrounds him" might support a lesser sentence than non-parolable life - may be impossible to determine...[These considerations] support the conclusion that Miller does not apply retroactively under federal law or state law." (p.1)
The U.S. Supreme Court's Miller v. Alabama decision deemed mandatory sentences of life without parole to be unconstitutional for juvenile murders. The ruling permitted life without parole sentences to be given, as long as judges consider whether they are appropriate sentences for the crime committed by a teenager. The court did not address the issue of retroactivity.
Four other states - Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Florida – as well as two federal appellate courts have also found that the U.S. Supreme Court decision is not retroactive.
Changes to Michigan Sentencing Guidelines After Miller v. Alabama
On March 4, 2014, Governor Snyder signed Senate Bill 319 (S.B. 319) into law bringing Michigan law and sentencing guidelines into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama without further injuring crime victims and their families, whose lives were irreparably harmed by teenage murderers. S.B. 319 was sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Margaret O'Brien (R-Portage) in the House.
On December 23, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit granted Schuette's request to stay a ruling by a federal court opening the door for parole for approximately 360 teenage murderers currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. The order issued in Hill v. Snyder stays the District Court ruling, pending the outcome of an appeal before the 6th Circuit.
Schuette's appeal will challenge the District Court's requirement that the Michigan Department of Corrections open the door to parole for nearly 360 teenage murders currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. Such parole hearings are not warranted under existing Supreme Court precedent. The federal retroactivity standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Teague v. Lane in 1989, commonly known as 'the Teague Rule,' states that U.S. Supreme Court rulings are not generally retroactive for matters of judicial process. Schuette will also defend the statutory authority of state sentencing judges to block parole for violent criminals, when warranted for public safety.
Remembering Murder Victims and Their Families
On August 27, 2013, Attorney General Bill Schuette testified before a joint session of the House Criminal Justice Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, advocating for crime victims and their families whose lives were so deeply harmed by teenage murderers.
Also attending the hearing were several family members and friends of murder victims. Schuette joined them in donning a solitary red rose boutonniere as a symbol of remembrance for innocent lives lost to murder.