People v. Taylor




Michigan Supreme Court

Citation and Year

987 N.W.2d 132 (2022)

Constitutional Provision or State Statute

MCL 769.25 (“Miller fix” statute)

Nature of Case

In Miller v. Alabama, decided in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life without parole sentences for youth under age 18 and held that courts must consider the mitigating “attributes of youth” before imposing such a sentence as a discretionary matter.

In response to Miller, the Michigan Legislature enacted a new sentencing law, MCL 769.25, which provides for “Miller hearings” before a trial court can impose youth LWOP. These hearings require courts to consider specific mitigating factors, including a youth’s background and capacity for rehabilitation. After a Miller hearing in 2015, the trial court sentenced Robert Taylor to life without parole. On appeal, Taylor challenged the sentence on numerous grounds, including that there is a presumption against youth LWOP and that the prosecution failed to meet its evidentiary burden to overcome it.


The court held that LWOP for youth offenders is presumptively disproportionate, and prosecutors bear the burden of overcoming this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. The prosecutor must demonstrate facts to support their extraordinary request to sentence a youth defendant to die in prison.


The fact that Miller did not patently provide a presumption against LWOP is not dispositive. As the U.S. Supreme Court remarked later in Montgomery v. Louisiana, when a new substantive rule of constitutional law is established, the Supreme Court is “careful to limit the scope of any attendant procedural requirement to avoid intruding more than necessary upon the State’s sovereign administration of their criminal justice systems.”

Accordingly, the court conducted a statutory analysis of MCL 769.25 to find that the prosecutor bears the burden of proof at a Miller hearing. “Although MCL 769.25 does not include a specified standard of proof,” the court said, “the burden of proof is generally assigned to the party who ‘seeks to change the present state of affairs and who therefore naturally should be expected to bear the risk of failure of proof or persuasion.’ This concept—that the moving party bears the burden—is uniformly present in Michigan practice and procedure in both criminal and civil contexts.” And “a sentence of LWOP can be imposed only if the prosecutor files a motion.” Otherwise “the status quo is that a juvenile defendant will be sentenced to a term of years[.]”