Federal Court Rules Juvenile Life Without Parole Lawsuit May Proceed

July 15, 2011

In a decision issued today, a federal judge has allowed a lawsuit challenging Michigan’s juvenile life without parole sentences to proceed. Today’s ruling allows the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Michigan to prove that Michigan’s sentencing scheme that denies children a meaningful opportunity for parole constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and violates their constitutional rights.

In his 13-page decision, Judge John Corbett O’Meara allowed one of the plaintiffs, Keith Maxey, to continue with the case. Citing the three-year statute of limitations, he ruled that the other 12 clients waited too long to challenge their sentences. Maxey was 16 in 2007 when he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for his part in a robbery. Michigan law requires that children as young as 14 who are charged with certain felonies be tried as adults and, if convicted of a homicide offense, sentenced without judicial discretion to life without parole.

The following can be attributed to Deborah Labelle, attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative:

“Today’s ruling allows us to prove what many already know – sentencing children to die in prison without giving them an opportunity for parole is inhumane, unfair and unconstitutional. By ignoring a child’s potential for rehabilitation and denying judges and juries any discretion, the state doles out unforgiving sentences that violate basic fairness and human rights principles. This decision is the first step toward correcting this fundamental injustice.”

In addition, the following can be attributed to Ezekiel Edwards, staff attorney with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project:

“It is unquestionably unconstitutional to deny children any possibility of parole. The United States needs to join the rest of the world and stop the cruel and unusual practice of sentencing kids to spend the rest of their lives in prison.”

Read today's decision
Read the ACLU's complaint
Read more about this case

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