The Michigan Court of Appeals heard arguments Thursday about whether inmates who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole as juveniles should be granted a new sentencing hearing in the wake of a Supreme Court decision outlawing the practice.
In June 2012, in a case called Miller v Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment to impose a mandatory sentence of life without parole on juveniles convicted of homicide. The court had already ruled that life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes are unconstitutional.
In January 2013, Michigan Supreme Court Judge John Corbett O'Meara ruled that it was cruel and unusual to sentence juveniles to mandatory life without parole. According to Rana Elmir of the Michigan ACLU, in November 2013, Judge O'Meara directed the state to create a parole process for juveniles affected by the Supreme Court's ruling in Miller. The state appealed and today's hearing addressed three specific cases of juveniles serving life without parole for crimes they committed before they turned 18.
According to CBS Detroit, Michigan has approximately 360 inmates serving such sentences in the state. Among them is 69-year-old Sheldry Topp who was 17 when he was charged with murder and has been in prison since 1962.
In Miller, the Supreme Court did not specifically address whether their decision was retroactive, and in the nearly two years since the ruling states have been working out how to apply the ruling to current inmates who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles. CBS News' Crimesider profiled one such inmate, Massachusetts' Joe Donovan, who was convicted of felony first degree murder in 1996 when he was 17 years old. Donovan did not commit the murder, but was part of the fight that led to his friend stabbing a man to death. That friend has since been released.
The Michigan Court of Appeals is also considering whether life without parole is ever constitutional for a juvenile who did not commit, but participated in, a murder.