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A Better Partnership
January 27, 2017

MSC to decide whether to take up case on standard of review for juvenile life-without-parole sentences

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered a mini oral argument (MOAA) on whether to hear a case interpreting MCL 769.25. In People v. Hyatt, No. 325741, the court ordered the parties to file briefs “addressing whether the conflict-resolution panel of the Court of Appeals erred by applying a heightened standard of review for sentences imposed under MCL 769.25.” That statute allows prosecutors to seek life in prison without parole for defendants younger than 18 years old. Importantly, though, it does not tell judges what standard to apply when reviewing those sentences on appeal. At the MOAA, the court will hear arguments concerning the appropriate level of scrutiny for the Court of Appeals to apply.
During the initial appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals convened a conflict-resolution panel to decide how to handle juvenile life-without-parole sentences. MCL 769.25 governs those sentences, and, in Hyatt, the Court of Appeals decided to review them under an abuse-of-discretion standard. The court expanded on that standard, saying that an appellate court “is to conduct a searching inquiry and view as inherently suspect any life-without-parole sentence imposed on a juvenile offender under MCL 769.25” (emphasis added). Because the life-without-parole penalty is so severe, the court said, reviewing courts must not “rubber stamp” such sentences. But viewing the sentence as “inherently suspect” goes beyond the typical abuse-of-discretion standard. The Michigan Supreme Court will therefore decide whether to grant the application for leave to appeal that heightened level of scrutiny.
For more information on Hyatt and related cases, see our blog here.

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