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Michigan Court of Appeals Finds Juvenile's Convicted of First Degree Murder Have A Sixth Amendment Right to Have A Jury Determine Their Sentence

Daniel Williams, Esq.

The Michigan Court of Appeals determined in a published opinion yesterday, People v. Skinner, ___ Mich. App. ___; ___ N.W.2d ___; COA #317892 (Aug. 20, 2015) the Juvenile Offenders who are convicted of homicide, and who face a sentence of life without the possibility of parole are entitled to have a jury determine their fate at sentencing.  Previously, a Judge would impose the sentence.

However, the COA found that in the circumstance where a Juvenile is convicted of First Degree Murder, they have a right to demand that a jury be impaneled to determine if such a sentence is appropriate.  The Court found "[w]e find that the Sixth Amendment mandates that juveniles convicted of homicide who face the possibility of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole have a right to have their sentence determined by a jury."
The COA indicated, through a thorough analysis, that the right stemmed from the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Miller v. Alabama, 576 U.S. ___; 132 S.Ct. 2455; 183 L.Ed.2d. 407 (2012), the new sentencing scheme would ensure that the factors necessary to impose a mandatory life sentence on a juvenile offender would best be preserved.  As the COA noted, "[t]he Miller Court did not address the issue of who should decide whether a juvenile offender should receive a life without parole sentence and we are unaware of any court that has yet to address the issue."

Regardless of where a person stands on the issue of juvenile offender sentencing, this opinion puts the Michigan Courts at the forefront in how the determination of a life without parole sentence can and may be imposed.  While the case is likely to be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, and potentially, to the United States Supreme Court, the opinion provides a thorough and significant change in how juvenile offenders will, for now, be sentenced in Michigan. 

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