We are pleased to report that House Bill 5273 – the judicial veto bill –passed the Michigan Senate on Dec. 7.  The vote was 36-1.  The bill had previously passed the Michigan House by a large majority.  Governor Snyder signed the bill on December 21, and the law will go into effect within 90 days of signing.

In a nutshell, the law prohibits a judge who is the successor to the sentencing judge from vetoing a lifer’s parole.  The sentencing judge can still make an objection that takes away the parole board’s jurisdiction to grant release.  That objection must be in writing and be made within 30 days of the judge receiving notice from the board that a public hearing has been scheduled.  The successor judge will receive notice of a scheduled public hearing and can still state his or her objection to the board but that objection will not prevent the board from acting.  The exact language of the amendment to MCL 791.234(8)(c) is:

Notice of the public hearing shall be given to the sentencing judge, or the judge’s successor in office.  Parole shall not be granted if the sentencing judge files written objections to the granting of the parole within 30 days of receipt of the notice of hearing.   But the sentencing judge’s written objections shall bar parole only if the sentencing judge is still in office in the court before which the prisoner was convicted and sentenced. A sentencing judge’s successor in office may file written objections to the granting of parole, but a successor judge’s objections shall not  bar the granting of parole under subsection (7). If written objections are filed by either the sentencing judge or the judge’s successor in office, they shall be made part of the prisoner’s file.

Our records indicate that there are currently 47 parolable lifers who were scheduled for public hearings that were then cancelled because of judicial objections. In 41 of these cases (87%) the veto was exercised by a successor judge.  Now that the law has taken effect, the board will be free to reconsider these cases and reschedule public hearings if it chooses.  The successor judges would again be notified and their objections would be taken into account but the board could choose to proceed.

We have no knowledge about what the board will actually do in any given case.  But we know that it tried to proceed at least once and in some cases twice and had its intentions frustrated by successor judges.   Given the positive conclusions the board already reached, we share your hope that it will return to your cases in the near future and exercise its authority to make its own decisions about your release.

CAPPS has advocated for this change for many years.  But it finally happened only because Rep. Dave Pagel (R – Berrien Springs) cared enough to sponsor the bill, and his aide, Ben Eikey, worked hard to organize support and shepherd the bill through the legislative process.  If you would like to tell Rep. Pagel and Ben that you appreciate their efforts you may write to:

Rep. Dave Pagel
N-1097 House Office Building
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909

This news has brightened our holidays, and the holidays of Michigan parolable lifers for whom this law may provide relief in knowing that they will not have to face a veto from a successor judge if the board chooses to act in their cases in the future.