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MI Court of Appeals upholds life-without-parole sentence for man convicted of murder committed when he was 21

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Alex Adamowicz was convicted in Oakland County in 2014 of murdering a neighbor and sentenced to mandatory life in prison with no chance of parole.

Adamowicz appealed that sentence.

The appeal was rooted in a court ruling that mandatory life without parole for 18-year-olds is unconstitutional because a teenager’s brain is not fully developed. The court rejected the argument that the same should be held true for 21-year-olds and held Michigan’s sentencing law is not “cruel or unusual.”

The unanimous decision held that 21-year-olds are subject to adult privileges and responsibilities such as being allowed to use alcohol and cannabis and to get a concealed pistol license.

“Because first-degree murder is the gravest of crimes, the Legislature exercised its legitimate judgment that the gravest of crimes warranted the most severe punishment allowable under state law,” said the opinion written by Judge Christopher Murray.

Deborah LaBelle is an attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, which is not part of the case. She said the issue is not whether Adamowicz will be paroled. It’s whether he’s entitled to a court hearing on the sentence of life without parole. She said that would allow courts to consider questions of judgement and impulse control in a sentencing hearing.

“The question is whether you look to determine whether their actions had something to do with their emerging youth, their developmental issues such that it wouldn’t be fair to punish them the same as if a 40-year-old had committed this offense,” she told Michigan Public Radio.

LaBelle said there are there are more than a dozen cases in Michigan and others across the country of defendants aged 19 to 21 seeking that same opportunity. “And, so, not just Michigan, but a number of states are looking at should we look at emerging adults differently,” she said.

This is the second time the defendant has lost an appeal. His attorney said the decision will be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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