Court ruling could mean freedom for hundreds serving life sentences in Michigan

DETROIT (AP) — More than 250 people serving life prison sentences will get an opportunity for shorter terms after a major decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals, attorneys said Thursday.

A 2022 ruling that bars automatic life sentences for people who were 18 at the time of a murder can be applied retroactively to prisoners who are already in custody, including some who have been locked up for decades, the court said.

The court's 2-1 opinion came in the case of John Poole, who was 18 when he was involved in a fatal shooting in Wayne County. He was convicted of first-degree murder and, under Michigan law, sentenced to a mandatory no-parole prison term in 2002.

Poole, 41, now can return to court and argue that he deserves a shorter sentence with an opportunity for parole. His lawyers can raise several mitigating factors, including brain development and childhood, as well as his record in prison.

“We are gratified by this decision," said Maya Menlo of the State Appellate Defender Office. "Mr. Poole and so many others like him who received unconstitutional life-without-parole sentences deserve an opportunity to demonstrate that they are capable of rehabilitation.”

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court said anyone 17 or younger who is convicted of murder can't automatically be given a no-parole sentence. In Michigan, the state Supreme Court subsequently extended it to anyone who is 18. But the question of whether it was retroactive was not addressed at the time.