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Posted on Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 6:12 p.m.

Ann Arbor attorney celebrates Supreme Court decision on juvenile life sentences

By John Counts


Deborah LaBelle

Courtesy of Wayne State University

Related story: Attorney: Supreme Court ruling 'provides hope' to Michigan's 358 juvenile lifers

Monday was a hallmark day for Ann Arbor attorney Deborah LaBelle.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that sentencing juveniles to life terms in prison is unconstitutional. It’s something LaBelle has been working on for years.

“The Supreme Court has vindicated our complaint,” she told late Monday afternoon.

LaBelle has had her law practice in Ann Arbor for 15 years. She did her undergraduate work at Barnard College in New York City and went to law school at Wayne State University, where she occasionally lectures.

LaBelle represents many of the 358 juvenile lifers in Michigan on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In the past, she was co-counsel in a class action suit where she represented former female inmates who sued the Michigan Department of Corrections. It resulted in a $100 million settlement.

The case most on her mind now, though, may be the suit filed in Judge John Corbett O’Meara’s courtroom in the United States District Court, Eastern District that essentially addresses the juvenile lifer issue in Michigan.

“That’s been sort of trudging along,” she said.

LaBelle hopes the Supreme Court’s ruling will influence that case now.

Here's more from LaBelle on

"It's a great opinion, and it recognizes what the courts have been realizing and coming to for a while," said Deb Labelle ...

"It provides hope to over 300 people serving life without parole in Michigan's system that finally their age at the time they commited the offense will have to be taken into consideration and the hope that their maturity and rehabilitation will be recognized and they'll be able to go home."

Read about more statewide impact from the Supreme Court ruling.

Previous story about a Washtenaw County case: Teen killers Christopher Machacek and Steven Stamper still serving life sentences for 1987 shooting



Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 1:50 p.m.

I read this ,that sentencing juveniles to life terms in prison is unconstitutional.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 12:02 p.m.

And the recidivism rate is what? These unfortunate juveniles will spend years in a prison, the only life they will ever know, and come out reformed? I'm sure it feels good to Ms. LaBelle. I wonder how it feels to those that have crimes committed against them by these "rehabilitated" offenders? For the small percentage of those who are truly rehabilitated they should still remain in prison and counsel other inmates.............

The Black Stallion3

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 9:17 p.m.

I agree.....I fell sorry for the victims not the criminals.....they can stay in prison.

The Black Stallion3

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 11:01 a.m.

We sure spend a lot of energy defending our criminals don't we......too bad we don't spend more energy helping our law abiding victims.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 3:35 a.m.

Actually the ruling struck down mandatory life sentences without parole. Upon resentencing a trial judge could conceivably impose the same sentence - and many will. In 1982, James Porter killed 5 members of the same family in St. Clair County and received in 1983 convictions of first-degree murder with mandatory non-parolable life sentences. That sentence will now be vacated and Porter entitled to resentencing with the trial judge still having the discretion to impose the same prior sentences, but could give a lesser sentence - but a lesser sentence is highly unlikely. The sad part is that many who received the mandatory non-parolable life sentences as juveniles have spent fifty years or more in Michigan prisons. Their only prior hope was a governor's commutation order - which were rarely given. There have been juveniles in the past that have been sentenced to non-parolable life sentences for narcotics offenses in Michigan. Many other juveniles serving non-parolable life terms for murder were indigent minorities who were convicted under dubious circumstances. This Supreme Court decision is a landmark ruling that further erodes the power of the legislatures to impose mandatory draconian sentences. It was only in 1972 that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down death sentences for convicts for such things as nonfatal assault.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

Kind of a misleading story. "Life sentences" were not ruled unconstitutional. "Mandatory life sentences" were -


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 12:35 p.m.

Robert You just reworded what he said.

Robert Katz

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 12:44 a.m.

That is not correct either. What was ruled unconstitutional is life sentences for juveniles WITHOUT the possibility of parole. It doesn't mean they will necessarily be paroled some day, just that they must have that possibility.