More than a year after the United States (US) Supreme struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, Michigan lawmakers attempting to bring the state into compliance have hit a potential stalemate that threatens to derail any progress.
The sticking point: Does the decision apply retroactively to the 360 or so inmates who were under 18 when they committed crimes, mostly murder?
A group of Republican and Democratic legislators says prisoners should get new sentences, especially more than 100 who had lesser roles in a killing but still were given life with no possibility of parole. Prosecutors, led by Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, contend the ruling only applies to new defendants.
The tension-filled issue could heat up in the Capitol this fall, as shown by a recent packed legislative hearing that also filled two overflow rooms. It was the first hearing on bipartisan bills that would prospectively overhaul sentencing rules for defendants under 18 charged with murder and give current inmates a chance at release in the future.
"I'm not suggesting that these men and women should be set free. I'm suggesting that a small number of them may someday deserve a second look," said Rep Joe Haveman, a Holland Republican and a lead sponsor of the legislation.
Michigan is home to the second-highest number of juvenile lifers in the US.
The bills would eliminate mandatory no-parole sentences for juveniles in new cases. They could still get life with no possibility of release, but it would not be mandated.