Judges, Not Juries, to Decide Juvie Lifers Fate

     LANSING, Mich. (CN) – The fate of juvenile offenders who commit heinous crimes is to be decided by judges, not juries, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled.
     In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole must be resentenced and that prosecutors must file motions for those they think should remain in prison.
     But the July 21 ruling in Michigan further clarifies how prosecutors must address the 367 juvenile lifer cases the state is currently processing for resentencing.
     The opinion involves the case of Kenya Ali Hyatt , who was convicted of first degree murder in Genesee County for the 2010 shooting death of John “Andy” Mick.
     Hyatt, who was 17 at the time of the crime, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
     While the Supreme Court’s ruling mandated his resentencing, the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered a seven-judge special conflict panel to resolve a conflict between two earlier Court of Appeals decisions, People vs. Skinner and People vs. Perkins.
     The panel concluded that a judge, not a jury, is to determine whether to sentence a juvenile to life without parole.
     The court remanded the Hyatt case back to Genesee County Circuit Court for resentencing cautioning it against the imposition of a juvenile offender life without-parole sentence except in the rarest of circumstances.
     “Were we to address it, I would conclude that a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender constitutes cruel or unusual punishment in violation of the Michigan Constitution,” wrote Judge Jane Beckering.
     “The sentencing procedure was constitutional and the sentence was proportionate to the circumstances surrounding the offense and the offender,” the dissenting opinion signed by Judges Patrick Meter, Michael Kelly and Michael Riordan, says. “I would affirm the sentence.”
     All but one of the 367 juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole received that judgment after being convicted of first-degree murder. The lone exception is a juvenile convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

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