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Crime And Police


AG Schuette Announces Victory For Crime Victims And Families

Lansing, MI - On July 8, 2014 Attorney General Bill Schuette praised a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that brings some closure to victims of teen murderers and their families who have grappled with uncertainty in light of a U.S. Supreme Court Ruling involving the constitutionality of life sentences for convicted teen murderers.

“Today the Michigan Supreme Court upheld the rights of crime victims and their families,” said Schuette. “This ruling should bring a measure of peace to the many families who struggled with the possibility of painful re-sentencing hearings for cases successfully prosecuted decades ago.”

Rulings in three cases handed down today unequivocally state that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama addressing the sentences of convicted teenage murderers does not apply retroactively for those already sentenced years (and in some cases, even decades) ago.

The Michigan Supreme Court today ruled 4-3 in three cases regarding juveniles convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole: People v. Carp, People v. Davis, and People v. Eliason. Schuette's office presented oral arguments in People v. Carp.

The Opinion by Justice Markman ruled the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama addressing the sentences of convicted teenage murderers does not apply retroactively under existing federal or state retroactivity precedent.

The majority ruling goes on to state resentencing hearings for teenage murderers convicted prior to Miller would not “further the achievement of justice under the law”:

This process would not, in our judgment, further the achievement of justice under the law because it would require in many instances that the impossible be done, and if it could not be, a heavy cost would be incurred by society in the form of the premature release of large numbers of persons who will not have fully paid their legal debt to society, many of whom as a result might well continue to pose a physical threat in particular to individuals living in our most vulnerable neighborhoods. (p. 62)

The Court also noted the impracticality of resentencing hearings in cases that have long since been tried and sentenced:

We are not confident that the justice achieved by a resentencing process taking place many years after the original trial and sentencing-- many years after the victims of the homicide have become little more than historical footnotes to all but their immediate families—and presided over by a judge who can never entirely be situated like the judge who presided over the trial, can effectively replicate the justice achieved at the initial sentencing. Instead, we believe that the trial court’s ability to travel back in time to assess a defendant’s mental state of some 20 years earlier-- evidence of which may not even have been gathered at the time-- is limited; that the recollection of memories about aggravating and mitigating circumstances-- evidence of which may again not even have been gathered at the time-- is questionable; and that, as a result, public confidence in the integrity and accuracy of those proceedings will understandably be low. (p. 63)

Miller v. Alabama
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, leading to today’s state court rulings. Four other states – Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Nebraska – 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 In Light of 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.

Pending Federal Case - Hill v. Snyder
A federal case addressing similar issues remains pending in the U.S Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. On December 23, 2013, 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 challenges the District Court's requirement that the Michigan Department of Corrections pursue parole proceedings for nearly 360 teenage murders currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. Such parole hearings are not warranted under existing Supreme Court (and now Michigan 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.

At this time, the Court is considering dismissal of the plaintiffs’ cross-appeal regarding several orders that were unfavorable towards their arguments in this case.