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Michigan Supreme Court Victory Regarding Juvenile Life Sentences

A team of Warner attorneys successfully represented Robert Taylor pro bono in appealing his sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for his part in a kidnapping and murder that occurred while Mr. Taylor was a juvenile. At age 16, Mr. Taylor acted as a lookout during the kidnapping and aided and abetted his co-defendant in the murder, although Mr. Taylor did not pull the trigger.  After the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama (567 US 460 (2012), which struck down mandatory LWOP sentences for juveniles, Mr. Taylor filed a motion for resentencing. The trial court considered the factors articulated in the Miller decision and resentenced Mr. Taylor to the original sentence—LWOP. The Court of Appeals affirmed this decision. The Michigan Supreme Court held oral argument to determine whether to grant the application for leave to appeal. In lieu of granting leave, the Court ruled in Mr. Taylor’s favor. Specifically, the Court held that when a prosecutor seeks to impose LWOP for a crime committed by the defendant as a juvenile, the prosecutor bears the burden to rebut, by clear and convincing evidence, the presumption that LWOP is a disproportionate sentence. Since this did not happen in Mr. Taylor’s case, the Court indicated that Mr. Taylor must be resentenced. This victory for Mr. Taylor will likely also be felt throughout Michigan’s criminal justice system. As the State Appellate Defender Office commented on the Taylor decision, “It is impossible to overstate how hugely important this is, and not just for your client.”  This was one of several recent decisions by the Michigan Supreme Court which signal a sea-change in Michigan criminal law and offer hope for youthful offenders who had no hope of ever leaving prison alive. During this case, one of the Michigan Supreme Court Justices praised a Warner attorney for presenting one of the best rebuttal arguments that he had the privilege to watch.  People v. Taylor, 2022 WL 3008301