Washtenaw County case part of ACLU lawsuit challenging lack of parole for juveniles
A Washtenaw County case is among those named in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging a Michigan law that bars any chance at parole for juveniles convicted of certain murders.
Attorney Deborah LaBelle of Ann Arbor said the law is a violation of the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment. She filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court in Detroit on behalf of nine people who were convicted of murders committed at age 17 or under.
Among the nine plaintiffs is 35-year-old Bosie Lee Smith, who was convicted by a jury in Washtenaw County of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1992. According to the suit, Smith was 16 when he fatally stabbed a man during a fight that year.
The victim was eight years older and twice the size of the 103-pound Smith, the suit says, but the jury rejected Smith's claim of self-defense. Smith, who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, was charged and tried as an adult without any "consideration of his juvenile status, mental age or maturity," the suit says.
Both the case evaluator and the judge were "troubled by the idea" of sentencing Smith to life, the suit says, but the case evaluator recommended adult sentencing because "the only other option was four years in the juvenile system."
The suit notes that Smith has been taking classes in prison and behaving. He has "exhausted all his post-conviction appellate options." According to the suit, because of the nature of the offense, the Michigan Parole Board has no jurisdiction to consider Smith for parole.The plaintiffs include 28-year-old Matt Bentley, who was convicted of a fatal shooting that occurred in 1997 in Huron County when he was 14.
LaBelle said it's not fair that teens can't go to the parole board and seek release, based on their rehabilitation in prison and other factors.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.