Michigan law has an automatic life-without-parole sentence for first-degree murder. At issue now is how the state must comply with a 2012 Supreme Court decision that struck down mandatory no-parole sentences for those who were under 18 when they committed crimes, mostly murder. The high court said it's cruel and unusual punishment.
Michigan at the time said it had more than 350 prisoners in that category, out of about 2,000 nationwide.
U.S. District Judge John Corbett O'Meara in Ann Arbor ruled Jan. 30 that Michigan must allow the possibility of parole for those convicted of first-degree murder before they turn 18. But the state attorney general's office asked that the decision apply only to the juvenile convict who brought the complaint. It has contended that the Supreme Court's decision didn't automatically apply to past sentences.
State prosecutors "believe they may enforce the statute, which the court has declared unconstitutional, with respect to other juveniles sentenced to life in prison," O'Meara wrote Monday. "As this court now makes clear, defendants are incorrect."
"Every person convicted of first-degree murder in the state of Michigan as a juvenile and who was sentenced to life in prison shall be eligible for parole," the judge said.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued in 2010 to strike down the Michigan law that bars people from seeking parole for first-degree murder committed as a juvenile. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on mandatory no-parole punishments while that lawsuit was pending.
The ACLU praised Monday's decision.
"Today's order makes clear that every person sentenced to life without parole for a crime committed when they were a child is now eligible for parole," ACLU lead attorney Deborah LaBelle said in a statement. "As the court previously ruled 'To hold otherwise would be to allow the state to impose unconstitutional punishment on some persons but not others, an intolerable miscarriage of justice.'"
An aide to Attorney General Bill Schuette said the office would have comment later Monday.