Rethink felony murder
Recently the U.S. Supreme Court and the Michigan Supreme Court have both acknowledged that life without parole sentences for juveniles who commit first-degree premeditated murder is unconstitutional, and cruel or unusual punishment. Yet, Michigan continues sentencing felony murder aider and abettors to mandatory life without parole where the defendants did not kill, participate in the killing, or have intent to kill. As a practical matter, felony murder where the defendant did not kill, participate, or have intent to kill is a fabricated offense, as the defendants are in fact not murderers. Still, the defendants are punished as severely as serial killers, mass shooters causing multiple deaths, and as premeditated murderers.
Mandatory life without parole for felony murder as an aider and abettor where defendant did not kill, participate in the killing, or have intent to kill violates the prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment. In People v Lorentzen (387 MICH at 33) the Michigan Supreme Court adopted a four part test for determining if a sentence is cruel or unusual; 1) the severity of the sentence imposed compared to the offense; 2) the penalty imposed for the offense compared to penalties imposed on other offenders in Michigan; 3) The penalty imposed in Michigan compared to the penalty imposed for the same offense in other states; and 4) whether the penalty imposed advances penological goal of rehabilitation.
As for the first and second Lorentzen factors, each weighed in favor of finding the penalty cruel or unusual, a life without parole sentence is the most severe penalty that can be imposed in Michigan for any offense. And this particularly severe when imposed for felony murder as an aider and abettor when the defendant did not kill, participate, or have intent. A life without parole sentence for aider and abettor felony murder is much more severe than any second-degree murder conviction for a defendant who actually committed murder. And once again the sentence for aider and abettor felony murder is the same given to serial killers and premeditated murderers.
Turning to the third Lorentzen factor, there is a clear national trend towards eliminating or amending felony murder laws. Michigan’s border state Ohio has managed quite well without a felony murder rule, Kentucky and Hawaii have specifically abolished the felony murder doctrine. The felony murder doctrine is unknown as such in continental Europe. Many states have downgraded the offense and reduced the punishment, these include but are not limited to Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, and Utah. Minnesota classifies felony murder as third-degree murder. Michigan border state Wisconsin makes felony murder a class B felony, punishable by no more than 20 years. In 2018, California’s legislature limited felony murder to those with intent to kill or those who participated in the killing. This change was lauded by lawmakers and commentators alike. The California Supreme Court called its former felony murders law a “barbaric concept.” For these reasons, the third factor finds aider and abettor felony murder cruel or unusual. Finally, the fourth factor, the goal of rehabilitation, was not accomplished by mandatory sentencing an individual to life in prison. This is a long-standing principle. Under Lorentzen, felony murder aider and abettor is cruel or unusual punishment.
Felony murder is a unique charge in Michigan because unlike other offenses it can be prosecuted without committing the offense, particularly in the offense or having intent. This certainly makes felony murder aider and abettor unusual, and mandatory life without parole applied to a defendant who did not murder, participate in a murder, or have intent to murder, certainly makes it excessive, disproportionate, and cruel.
This practice is also costing taxpayers untold millions of dollars each year. California seems to have got it right, it’s time for Michigan to follow suit.
~ D.L. Weissert
Oaks Correctional Facility
Michigan justice is harsh
I am currently incarcerated in a Michigan prison, but I am from another state. I am from Milwaukee, Wisc. Since being in Michigan, I have noticed a harsher system when it comes to criminal justice and the whole criminal legal system. I know the Michigan criminal legal system is long overdue for change, and the laws are absurd. There is no Good Time policy here for people who want to do good, and change. There is no incentive whatsoever for classes, school, work or nothing. There are Disciplinary Credits, but you have to have been sentenced before 1998, and they don’t even want to give prisoners they credit for that. There are about four to six other states that don’t have Good Time, and I think they all should implement some form of Good Time or Productivity Credits. The laws here are outdated and they are not working to change and rehabilitate people in the system. There has to be change, and when I get out, I want to help push for change.
~ Cedric Felton
Cooper Street Facility
Inmates are asked to compose our individual thoughts, experiences and feelings surrounding our daily life in prison.
Readers want to hear how the sunsets and rises are the most artistic and awe-filled expressions of nature one could ever hope to see. How I never noticed them pre-incarceration – too busy sleeping or getting ready for a workday. How I never noticed the colors dance in the sky to perform a skylight setting the heavens on fire. How I had never discovered the awe of geese flying in formation or the lone plane flying red eye.
I see all of this through barbed wire and endless unnecessary fencing. Beauty encompassing depression and hopelessness. How daily I am reminded I am no longer apart of the beauty that makes the world. I am relegated to an observer.
Seems like it’s been that way my whole life. Most inmates feel that way, never worthy in our personhood. The daily feeling of powerlessness and defenselessness. Conditioning to accept bad treatment without a word of protest, we are not paroled until the light has left our eyes, “Yes, ma’am” “Yes, sir.”
We at least now have a more acceptable name! Inmate, Prisoner, Convict, Felon. The 13th amendment says those terms are synonymous with “slave.” I still get to see the frost on the grass, covering blades like crystals – reflecting like diamonds. The birds aren’t afraid of me.
Afraid to pen the snippets of beauty, compassion, happiness and glee I force myself to feel lest the reader think this is an optimal environment; my punishment not great enough.
Pass no new laws, vote for no prison reform, let the façade of beauty keep me.
Criminal justice reform is for the family, the innocent bystander, the children. Yet with each curious reader “itching” to get “involved,” no consideration is had for the female convict, the lowest percentage of recidivists and also the lowest percentage to benefit from integrity units, innocence clinics and commutations.
Readers want to know how it feels to be a throwaway, food stale, served lukewarm, Court deciding I don’t have a right to be free from mold. This is a slow death. System sees to it with inefficient and ineffective death, I mean, health care.
What is this experience like? Well, I still got the sunsets.
~ Krista Gladney
Huron Valley Women’s Correctional Facility