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Is Sentencing Juveniles To Life Behind Bars Cruel And Unusual? Michigan Supreme Court To Decide

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DETROIT (WWJ/AP)- Should teens sentenced to life in prison have another chance at freedom?

On Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court will make that decision on whether to give those already sentenced as a juvenile lifer a second chance at life.

Michigan has roughly 360 inmates in prison for life who were convicted of first degree murder when they were just teenagers.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette argues that those teenagers were given a fair trial, as well as a fair sentence.

Attorney Cary S. McGehee spoke with WWJ’s Charlie Langton, and she agrees with a Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that mandatory no-parole punishments are cruel and unusual for juveniles.

“It’s cruel and unusual punishment for somebody who’s being sentenced,” McGehee said. “But somebody who’s been in prison for 20 years, who didn’t have the benefit of a judge taking into consideration the mitigating circumstances. That’s not cruel and unusual punishment?”

McGehee says mitigating circumstances such as the development and maturity of the mind, should play a factor in any juvenile case.

“Science knows that the juvenile mile is not developed the same as an adults mind,” she said. “We know that because we’ve all been juveniles at one time in our lives.”

McGehee, who represents two juvenile lifers for free, believes the Michigan courts should have the option of reconsidering those sentences, especially when the teen isn’t completely at fault.

“In many of these instances, the juvenile was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” McGehee said. “A lot of instances, the people who actually were involved in the shooting, the adults got shorter sentences than these juveniles.”

The oldest Michigan inmate in the juvenile lifer category is Sheldry Topp, 69, who was 17 when he was charged with murder in Oakland County. He’s been in prison since 1962.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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