People v. Parks




Michigan Supreme Court

Citation and Year

987 N.W.2d 161 (Mich. 2022)

Constitutional Provision or State Statute

MICH. CONST. ART. I, § 16 (“cruel or unusual punishment shall not be inflicted”)

Nature of Case

In Miller v. Alabama, decided in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life without parole sentences for offenders under the age of 18, and held that sentencing courts must consider the mitigating “attributes of youth” before imposing such a sentence as a discretionary matter. The Miller court emphasized that children lack maturity and have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility that leads to recklessness and impulsivity. Additionally, the court recognized that children are more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures, and that their character is not as “ well formed” as an adult’s, all factors that reduce their culpability. In People v. Parks, the Michigan Supreme Court considered whether Art. 1 § 16 of the Michigan Constitution, which bans “cruel or unusual” punishments, requires sentencing courts to apply Miller’s protections to people age 18.


The Michigan Constitution mandates that 18-year-olds receive the same individualized sentencing as juveniles, rather than being subjected to a mandatory life-without-parole sentence like other older adults. A mandatory penalty of life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 18 year olds violates the state’s “cruel or unusual” punishment prohibition.


In a separate case decided in 1992, People v. Bullock, the Michigan Supreme Court interpreted the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishment more broadly than the 8th Amendment, and set forth a four-pronged test to assess excessive punishments: (1) the severity of the sentence relative to the gravity of the offense; (2) sentences imposed in the same jurisdiction for other offenses; (3) sentences imposed in other jurisdictions for the same offense; and (4) the goal of rehabilitation, which is a criterion specifically “rooted in Michigan’s legal traditions.” This test directs courts to consider not only the impact of the offense but also the personal and moral responsibility of the defendant.

In Parks, the court focused primarily on the first and second prongs of the Bullock test. The court began by distinguishing between a life sentence for someone who is 18 years old compared to someone who is much older. “Life without parole is an especially harsh punishment for a juvenile, because he will almost inevitably serve more years and a greater percentage of his life in prison than an adult offender. The penalty when imposed on a teenager, as compared with an older person, is therefore the same in name only.” Moreover, the court noted that, according to modern brain science, late-adolescent 18-year-old brains are more similar to juvenile brains than to the brains of fully-matured adults. As a result, an automatic LWOP sentence, which is the most severe penalty possible under Michigan law, disregards the mitigating attributes of youth and imposes a penalty that is not constitutionally proportional to the personal and moral guilt of an 18-year-old. “While we emphatically do not minimize the gravity and reprehensibility of defendants’ crime, it would be profoundly unfair to impute full personal responsibility and moral guilt to those who are likely to be biologically incapable of full culpability.”