Juvenile Life Without Parole Law Challenged

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging a Michigan law that bars any chance at parole for juveniles convicted of certain murders.
Attorney Deborah LaBelle says it’s a violation of the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment. She filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court in Detroit on behalf of nine people who were convicted of murders committed when they were age 17 or under.

“The remedy that is being sought is to give them an opportunity for release, no guarantees, just to say that the parole board in Michigan or an alternative board should look to see if they have been punished enough.” LaBelle said.

The plaintiffs include 28-year-old Matt Bentley, who was convicted of a fatal shooting that occurred in 1997 in Huron County when he was 14.

LaBelle says it’s not fair that teens can’t go to the parole board and seek release, based on their rehabilitation in prison and other factors.

“These life without parole sentences ignore the very real differences between children and adults, abandoning the concepts of redemption and second chances,” said Labelle, attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative. “As a society, we believe children do not have the capacity to handle adult responsibilities, so we don’t allow them to use alcohol, join the Army, serve on a jury or vote – yet we sentence them to the harshest punishment we have in this state – to die in adult prisons.”

Michigan law requires that children as young as 14 who are charged with certain felonies be tried as adults and, if convicted, sentenced without judicial discretion to life without parole.

The U.S. is the only country in the world that sentences youth to life without parole, and Michigan incarcerates the second highest number of people serving life sentences without parole for crimes committed when they were 17 years old or younger.

 (Copyright 2010 WWJ Radio. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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