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.)

  • Jan

    UNISHMENT? Don’t you think the person they killed got cruel and unusual punishment? That is the problem today, the criminals are not punished harshly enough and they know it, so what is the deterent? I’m very saddened the way society is going. Might as well be a criminal, you have more priveledges/less punishment than the victims or honest guys! What a sad way our world is turning….not for the good at all!!

  • sandra

    So then you want someone killed have a child do it for you???? They will get less punishment than you as an adult is that what you are saying? If they are old enough to do the crime they are old enough to do the time!!!!

  • Shirls

    There’s more than the idea of retribution/justice at play here…in any sentencing decision, we should also look at deterrence, menace to society, rehabilitation factors….

    There’s an interesting article here discussing these factors in relation to sentencing juveniles to life without parole:


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