DETROIT (AP) — The Supreme Court ruling that banned states from imposing mandatory life sentences on juveniles offers an unexpected chance at freedom to more than 2,000 inmates who have never been able to seek release and had virtually no hope that their prospects would change.
In more than two dozen states, lawyers can now ask for new sentences. And judges will have discretion to look beyond the crime at other factors such as a prisoner's age at the time of the offense, the person's background and perhaps evidence that an inmate has changed while incarcerated.
"The sentence may still be the same," said Lawrence Wojcik, a Chicago lawyer who co-chairs the juvenile justice committee of the American Bar Association. "But even a sentence with a chance for parole gives hope."
Virtually all of the sentences in question are for murder. When Henry Hill was an illiterate 16-year-old, he was linked to a killing at a park in Saginaw County and convicted of aiding and abetting murder.
Hill had a gun, but he was never accused of firing the fatal shot. Nonetheless, the sentence was automatic: life without parole. He's spent the last 32 years in Michigan prisons.
"I was a 16-year-old with a mentality of a 9-year-old. I didn't understand what life without parole even meant," Hill, now 48, said Tuesday in a phone interview.
He heard about the Supreme Court decision while watching TV news in his cell.
"I got up hollering and rejoicing and praising God," said Hill, who used to renovate homes for a living. He would like to go back to his old trade and be a mentor to children. "The last three or four years, they always put young guys in with me."
The ruling also alarmed families of crime victims. Jessica Cooper, prosecutor in Oakland County, Mich., said her office has been taking calls from "distressed" victims' relatives.
"Now they're going to start all over," Cooper said. "It's going to take years."
The Michigan Corrections Department said 364 inmates are serving mandatory life sentences for crimes they committed under age 18. The prisoners now range in age from 16 to 67.
In Monday's 5-4 decision, the high court said life without parole for juveniles violates the Constitution's ban against cruel and unusual punishment. More than 2,000 people are in U.S. prisons under such a sentence, according to facts agreed on by attorneys for both sides of the case.
It's possible that some inmates will win immediate release. Judges could also impose new sentences carrying a specific number of years and a parole review. Some inmates could still be kept locked up for life.
"Judges have options," said Deborah LaBelle, a lawyer in Ann Arbor, Mich. "The Supreme Court said to look at juveniles individually: their age, family background, peer pressures, home environments."
LaBelle said she took a phone call from 34-year-old inmate Kevin Boyd, who was 16 when his mother killed his father. Boyd had given her the keys to his father's apartment, was aware of her threats and was convicted of murder.
After hearing of the court's decision, Boyd told LaBelle that he slept "with hope on my pillow for the first time in 15 years."
Back in 1996, Saulo Montalvo was a 16-year-old getaway driver in a fatal store robbery in Grand Rapids. He never stepped into the store but was convicted of murder and sent away for life.
"My mom and dad had gotten divorced, and I thought I had something to do with it," he said of his teen years. "I placed this burden on myself and began to act out. I gravitated toward people who were into minor crimes, drinking and smoking marijuana, and sought their acceptance. … I was so broken by what I had done."
He said the victim's family has long forgiven him. And if released, Montalvo said, he could "be a benefit to the society I left behind."
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who supported the state's life without parole law for juveniles, said crime victims won't be forgotten during the next round of court hearings.
"Every case has its unique set of facts," Schuette said. "We're going to make sure the truth is accurate."
Also On Black America Web:
This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (11/26-12/2)
30 photos Launch gallery
1. Little Legend and Puddy 😍😍😍😍
1 of 30
2. "You on point Phife?" "all the time,Tip". 💥 #bannedfromnormal
2 of 30
3. Vegan! The Impossible burger at Crossroads
3 of 30
4. Lawrence #BeforeandAfterEpisodes 1-4: 184lbs 13% body fatEpisode 8: 196lbs 8% body fat S/O @coachdaveboxing with the works outs and @kildareriordan with the nutrition
4 of 30
5. Jus haaaanngin out
5 of 30
6. Meanwhile back at home in Atlanta GA someone mad they not on the 🛳. 😳
6 of 30
7. No limits... Photo cred: Chris Bridges @ludacris
7 of 30
8. new new
8 of 30
9. Apparently my 260lbs is too much for the actual vines in the Hawaiian jungles to hold me without breaking and me falling hundreds of feet. So for safety purposes, I'm forced to swing thru #Jumanjj on wires strong enough to hold 12 adult buffaloes and 1 adult Rock. #OnSet #Jumanji #IronicallyIEatBuffaloDailyForLunch #MoreManThanNatureKnowsWhatToDoWith
9 of 30
10. hey ma! 🎎#wcw 💙
10 of 30
11. Surprise visit to our factories!!! #GoodAmerican #USA
11 of 30
12 of 30
13. Peachy Keen 🔥✨⚡️
13 of 30
14. If this don't look thankful I don't know what does. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. #UltraBlessed #24kMagic #SweetPotatoFly
14 of 30
15. Late nights @nbcmarlon with the writers... we in here!!!
15 of 30
16. There goes my baaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy #QueenKingMagic!!! We're up to something! Ira BIG!!! Stay out our buisness -
16 of 30
17. You want to win every game you play but when you come home to these faces... who cares. #ILoveYouGirls best part of my day, everyday!
17 of 30
18. Steady,steady..... full size jenga.. "I got this one "???? Or do I ?
18 of 30
19. Cornrows kind of day 😉@dontaysavoy2 you convinced me and I love. ❤️️
19 of 30
20. #BrotherlyLove #tbt
20 of 30
21 of 30
22. #basel #TeamLOVE @kingcombs
22 of 30
23. Just introduced a special screening of @directher 's groundbreaking (must see) documentary @13thfilm with my brother @themichaelealy | @unitedblackout #blackoutblackfriday
23 of 30
24. Me & Vanessa Williams giving #DuckLips #Pose on the set of #DaytimeDivas @vh1 - Coming Soon to a tv near you. Lol. - My make up done by @makeupsurgeon
24 of 30
25. This picture just makes me wanna praise the Lord, you hear me!!!!!! Yes Lord brotha #TEDDYCAMPBELL What a #man !!! You are everything right on this picture husband ......... #gorgeous #stylish #classy #strong #masculine #king #sexy #debonair #gentlemenstyle And that #bible in your hand just seals the deal for me (probably cause i know that, that is what helped you become just as amazing as you look😘). While my heart and mind experiences the goodness of God at #church on Sundays, my eyes experiences the goodness of Teddy😍. Amen somebody🙌🏽. "Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name" #myman #myhusband #goodman #blackman #dapperman #godlyman #goodfather #mybestfriend
25 of 30
26. Yesterday was my mama's 53rd birthday!!!!! Got to celebrate with her all day. If this is what I have to look forward to I can't wait. Looking like a soft bucket a cocoa butter. Yaaaaaaaaaas! 😍😍😍 love you mommy!
26 of 30
27. "Shout out to @PureAtlanta for getting the family right"....I'm loving this jogger. 😍😍
27 of 30
28. This pic warms my heart ❤️ #myLogiebeans and aunt aunt umba @itowandabraxton 😘
28 of 30
29. You will always be my baby😜. #HappyBirthdayReginae #mybaby18
29 of 30
30. GC "Gods Child" Red on Red SweatSuit available now at www.MonicaApparel.com ... Take Your Crown wherever you go!! I'm pictured in a Medium... Go to the site now for other options ... cc: @trukernell
30 of 30