Statute Retroactively Depriving Juvenile Lifers of Earned Good Time and Disciplinary Credit Violates Ex Post Facto Clause

Hill v. Snyder, E.D. Mich., 10-cv-14568, Order entered April 9, 2018
On April 9, 2018, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that a Michigan statute that deprived juvenile lifers of disciplinary credit and good time earned before March 4, 2014, is an unconstitutional ex post facto law. MCL 769.25a was enacted in 2014, after the United States Supreme Court ruled in Miller v Alabama that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder cannot be subjected to mandatory sentences of life without parole. MCL 769.25a was triggered when the Supreme Court ruled, in Montgomery v Louisiana, that Miller applied retroactively.

The statute provides that juveniles who were subjected to mandatory life-without-parole sentences must be resentenced. It requires prosecuting attorneys to file motions for resentencing in all cases in which they are seeking re-imposition of life without parole, after which a hearing must be held on the motion. Juvenile lifers who are not resentenced to life without parole must be sentenced to a term of years with a minimum of 25 to 40 years and a maximum of 60 years. MCL 769.25a(6) provides that juvenile lifers who are resentenced to a term of years are entitled to credit for time already served, but not for good time or disciplinary credit.

Plaintiffs, individuals who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole for homicide crimes they committed as juveniles, filed a motion for summary judgment against defendants, the MDOC and various other state officials, arguing that MCL 769.25a(6) retroactively deprived them of good time and disciplinary credit earned prior to the enactment of MCL 769.25a in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution. The district court agreed.

The court concluded that Pullman abstention did not apply because Michigan law regarding good time and disciplinary credit was “unmistakably clear” and solidly supported plaintiffs’ position. Further, the court found that, if it abstained from ruling on the issue, there was too great a risk that constitutional guarantees would go unenforced. The court concluded that Younger abstention did not apply because plaintiffs were not seeking to interfere with any ongoing state judicial proceedings.

Having found no grounds to abstain from deciding the issue, the court ruled that MCL 769.25a(6) was an unconstitutional ex post facto law because it retroactively removed plaintiffs’ previously earned credits, increasing plaintiffs’ punishments. The court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on this issue and ordered defendants to apply good time and disciplinary credits in calculating parole eligibility dates for juvenile lifers resentenced to a term of years.

The court also granted plaintiffs class certification. It found that plaintiffs meet the four requirements for class certification and that defendants have refused to provide the relief requested to all plaintiffs because of their membership in the class, not on individualized bases. The court appointed Deborah LaBelle, “who has diligently represented [p]laintiffs for the past seven years,” as class counsel.

The court declined to rule on plaintiffs’ allegation that denying them rehabilitative programming necessary for release on parole deprives them of a fair and meaningful opportunity for release. The court found that there had been no discovery on the issue and that the record was “very thin.” The parties cross-motions for summary judgment on this issue were denied without prejudice so that further discovery could take place. 

Read the Order here.