- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

DETROIT (AP) - The Michigan appeals court has assigned a special group of judges to settle conflicting opinions on a major issue: Should juries have the power to sentence teens convicted of first-degree murder?

A three-judge panel set a key precedent last year when it said juries - not trial judges - must decide whether someone under 18 gets a no-parole sentence. In January, a different set of judges had to apply it to a Flint murder case but firmly disagreed.

“There’s dissension among the entire court,” said Tonya Krause-Phelan, who teaches criminal law at Western Michigan University Cooley law school.

After a vote, the court recently created a seven-judge panel to take another look. It’s a step not taken since 2013. Briefs have been filed but arguments haven’t been scheduled.

“We’ve never had jury sentencing in Michigan. It would be a very unusual procedure,” said F. Martin Tieber, a lawyer who specializes in appeals. “The Court of Appeals knows the Michigan Supreme Court is ultimately going to decide this so it wants to give the Supreme Court a bigger survey of their judges.”

In the precedent-setting case, which involved an honors student who was convicted of plotting a fatal attack on her father in St. Clair County, the appeals court tied its decision to a line of U.S. Supreme Court cases, especially a 2012 opinion that teens convicted of first-degree murder must be treated differently than adults.

A prosecutor seeking a no-parole sentence for teens convicted of first-degree murder must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime is a reflection of “irreparable corruption,” judges Stephen Borrello and Joel Hoekstra said in August. In other words, it must be something so heinous that no opportunity for parole is deserved.

If the jury believes that threshold hasn’t been met, the defendant would be sentenced to a term of years, Borrello and Hoekstra said.

Judge David Sawyer disagreed.

“There is no need to impanel a jury to make any additional factual findings to authorize the trial court to impose a sentence of life without parole,” he said in dissent last summer.

Krause-Phelan said a young person hoping to avoid a no-parole sentence may have a better chance with a jury than a judge.

“The people sitting in the jury box hopefully are not going to be jaded by years of handling cases of hardened criminals and are going to think of their own sons and daughters and their lack of maturity,” she said Tuesday.

___

Follow Ed White at https://twitter.com/edwhiteap

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide