Wednesday, July 20, 2011

ACLU Challenges Michigan's Sentencing for Juveniles

Shutterstock/Sascha Burkard
A federal judge is allowing an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit to proceed that challenges Michigan’s life-without-parole sentence for individuals who committed crimes while juveniles. The ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan believe that Michigan’s sentencing practice constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and violates constitutional rights. Under Michigan law, children as young as 14 who are charged with certain felonies can be tried as adults and, if convicted of a homicide offense, sentenced to life without parole.

Case law is moving in the direction of recognizing that permanently incarcerating individuals who committed crimes as juveniles is indeed cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court took that position last year in the case Graham v. Florida, in which APA and other organizations had filed an amicus brief. The majority decision echoed the brief, which argued that due to minors' lack of understanding, they should not have to sacrifice their freedom for the rest of their lives for behavior that can be influenced by their incomplete brain development. For more information, see Psychiatric News at Additional information on brain development in youth can be found in the book Developmental Psychopathology and Wellness: Genetic and Environmental Influences, published by American Psychiatric Publishing and edited by James J. Hudziak, M.D. Ordering information is posted at


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