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Hill v. Snyder

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

February 7, 2017

HENRY HILL, et al., Plaintiffs,
RICK SNYDER, et al., Defendants.


          John Corbett O'Meara United States District Judge

         Before the court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint, which has been fully briefed. The court heard oral argument on November 17, 2016, and took the matter under advisement. For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion is granted.


         Plaintiffs were sentenced to mandatory life sentences for crimes they committed when they were under the age of eighteen. This case began in 2010 with Plaintiffs' challenge to the constitutionality of M.C.L. § 791.234(6), which prohibits the Michigan Parole Board from considering for parole those sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder. The court determined that § 791.234(6) was unconstitutional as applied to juveniles who had received mandatory life sentences and who were rendered ineligible for parole consideration. See Doc. 62 (January 30, 2013 Order). The court found § 791.234(6) ran afoul of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), in which the Supreme Court held that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Although Miller did not categorically ban life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, it declared that juveniles are entitled to individualized consideration of the mitigating and transient qualities of youth before the imposition of such a sentence. Id. at 2464-69.

         After this court declared M.C.L. § 791.234(6) unconstitutional as applied to juveniles, it sought additional briefing from the parties regarding the appropriate remedy. On November 26, 2013, the court ordered immediate compliance with Miller and required Plaintiffs to be given parole consideration. Defendants appealed, and the Sixth Circuit stayed the court's November 26, 2013 order pending appeal.

         In 2014 - while this case was on appeal - the Michigan Legislature passed a statute in response to Miller. See M.C.L. §§ 769.25, 769.25a. Section 769.25a provides for resentencing - rather than parole consideration - in the event Miller was determined to apply retroactively (to the Plaintiffs):

If the state supreme court or the United States supreme court finds that the decision of the United States supreme court in Miller v. Alabama . . . applies retroactively to all defendants who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes, and that decision is final for appellate purposes, the determination of whether a sentence of imprisonment for [first-degree murder] shall be imprisonment for life without parole eligibility or a term of years as set forth in section 25(9) of this chapter shall be made by the sentencing judge or his or her successor as provided in this section.


         The statute allows prosecuting attorneys to file motions requesting that juvenile offenders be given life-without-parole sentences. (With respect to Plaintiffs, the deadline for filing these motions was August 24, 2016.)[1] The defendant is then entitled to a resentencing hearing, at which “the court shall consider the factors listed in Miller v. Alabama . . . and may consider any other criteria relevant to its decision, including the individual's record while incarcerated.” M.C.L. § 769.25(6). At the hearing, “the court shall specify on the record the aggravating and mitigating circumstances considered by the court and the court's reasons supporting the sentence imposed. The court may consider evidence presented at trial together with any evidence presented at the sentencing.” M.C.L. § 769.25(7).

         In a recent decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals emphasized its understanding of Miller and cautioned that “when sentencing a juvenile offender, a trial court must begin with the understanding that, in all but the rarest of circumstances, a life-without-parole sentence will be disproportionate for the juvenile offender at issue. Thus, a sentencing court must begin its analysis with the understanding that life-without-parole is, unequivocally, only appropriate in rare cases.” People v. Hyatt, __ N.W.2d __, 2016 WL 3941269 (Mich. App. July 21, 2016). The court further noted that appellate courts should “conduct a searching inquiry and view as inherently suspect any life-without-parole sentence imposed on a juvenile offender under MCL 769.25.” Id.

         If the prosecutor decides not to seek a life-without-parole sentence, “the court shall sentence the individual to a term of imprisonment for which the maximum term shall be 60 years and the minimum term shall be not less than 25 years or more than 40 years.” M.C.L. § 769.25a(4)(c).

         In January 2016, the Supreme Court held in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718');">136 S.Ct. 718 (2016) that Miller was retroactive and that mandatory life-without-parole sentences that became final prior to Miller (like those imposed upon Plaintiffs) were void. Montgomery, 136 S.Ct. at 731, 733-34 (“There is no grandfather clause that permits States to enforce punishments the Constitution forbids.”).

         After the enactment of M.C.L. §§ 769.25 and 769.25a, and the Montgomery decision, the Sixth Circuit decided the appeal of this court's orders in this case. On May 11, 2016, the Sixth Circuit found that the significant changes that had occurred in the legal landscape during the pendency of the appeal required remand:

After careful consideration of the substantive issues at stake, the current procedural posture of the case, and the significant intervening legal changes described above, we vacate the district court's challenged orders and remand with instructions to provide the parties leave to amend their pleadings and to supplement the record as needed, particularly with respect to the current statutory scheme governing plaintiffs' sentences and eligibility for parole. We vacate the court's prior orders to enable the court to address remedies in the context ...

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