Federal Court Rules ACLU Lawsuit Challenging Juvenile Life Without Parole Can Proceed

July 15, 2011 6:25 pm

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

In his 13-page decision, U.S. District Court 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.

“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,” said Deborah Labelle, attorney with the ACLU of Michigan’s Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative. “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.”

According to Ezekiel Edwards, staff attorney with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project, “It is 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.”

A copy of the decision is available online at: www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform/hill-v-snyder-opinion

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