Category Archives: Juvenile Crime

New Controversial Michigan Bullying Law May Be Changed

State Senate Democrats are keeping pressure on Republican lawmakers at the other end of the Capitol to restore some cuts to an anti-bullying bill, telling them “the people of Michigan would be watching closely.”

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, said Monday that the state House of Representatives is expected to this week take up the Senate’s bill.

A statement from House Speaker Jase Bolger’s Twitter account indicated he didn’t agree with the Sentate’s bullying bill, mandates that school districts create an anti-bullying policy, but it says that policy cannot punish “a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian.”

“Bullying is wrong and the reason for bullying should not make it worse nor excused,” wrote Bolger, R-Marshall, on his account on Saturday.

Whitmer acknowledged Bolger’s statement about the bill, which she calls “license to bully,” but said she wants him “to do the right thing” by making a House bill more comprehensive.

“The Senate Republicans chose to play politics with this critically important issue that resulted in a bill that would actually leave Michigan’s students less protected than they already are,” Whitmer wrote in a release. “I’m calling on Speaker Bolger to not only fix their mistake, but bring Michigan up to date with what other states are already doing in passing comprehensive anti-bullying legislation that protects all of our students from bullying.”

Whitmer said the Senate vote has attracted nationwide attention. A video of her speaking out against the bill logged more than 350,000 hits worldwide and the story was posted on several national news sites, she said.

Senate Majority Leader Randy. Richardville “saw what happened when you try to pull one over on Michigan’s students that have been calling for real anti-bullying legislation. I certainly hope Speaker Bolger doesn’t make the same mistake because people from around the world will be watching.”

The Democrats have found some unlikely allies, with StudentsFirst.org, a school reform organization, also speaking out against the vote.

“StudentsFirst believes that a safe learning environment is fundamental to ensuring every child – whether that child is gay or straight – receives the high-quality education he or she is entitled to,” wrote Hari Sevugan, the organization’s vice president for communications. “That is why we support anti-bullying efforts that would accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, as it’s currently written, Matt’s Safe School Law does not provide meaningful protections against bullying, and thus we cannot support it. In fact, not only does the bill fail to protect students who are bullied, it would actually provide legal protections to those doing the bullying. That is simply unacceptable”.

Sevugan said the group is working “with friends and allies on both sides of the aisle to address changes made in the amendment process to make the law accomplish what it set out to do – provide a safe learning environment for every child.”

 

While reading through blogs and other social media this weekend it was obvious that people across the country and not just in Michigan were upset by this new bill.  I do not believe there should ever be an excuse for bullying and I’m interested to see how this gets resolved – Holly

 

If you have a legal question contact Daniel Ambrose at 248-624-5500

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Dontez Tillman, Youngest Juvenile In Michigan To Ever Receive A Life Sentence

from mlive.com

In the eyes of the state, Dontez Tillman acted as an adult when he and a group of teenage friends beat a homeless man to death behind a Pontiac bar.

But at critical moments leading to his conviction, the middle school student was treated as a child.

He was 14 when police allowed his mother to sit beside and scold him during interrogation. He was 15 when she advised him — for the second time — to reject a plea deal that would have resulted in a reduced sentence.

Now 17, Tillman still is not adult, but he holds a unique distinction. Of more than 3,300 prisoners in Michigan serving mandatory life, Tillman was the youngest at the time of his crime: 14 years, two months and 25 days.

Just two years in, he’s pining to get out. But Tillman isn’t mad at police, or prosecutors, or the judge who sentenced him. He is mad at the courtroom where he sat silent as adults debated his future, and where he wept when he learned his fate.

“I’ll never forget that court in all my life,” Tillman says during a recent interview at Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer. “When I first came into prison, I had a dream that I destroyed that courtroom. Not anybody in it. Just the courtroom.

“It was talking to me.”

BY THE NUMBERS

44: Juvenile lifers who were 15 when they committed their crimes

6: Juvenile lifers who were 14 when they committed their crimes

14, 2 and 25: Age in years, months and days of the youngest juvenile lifer at time of crime

4: Juvenile lifers who have died in prison

79: Oldest juvenile lifer ever, before death

3: Days short of his 80th birthday when he died

4: Number of people he killed

Michigan has 358 juvenile lifers, more than all but one other state. Most are much older now, adults imprisoned for decades and long forgotten by most everyone but the victims’ loved ones.

But Tillman’s arrest, trial and punishment made national headlines, captivating a public that wondered how anyone so young could kill — and in such a ruthless fashion.

He and his best friend, Thomas McCloud — just six months older — were automatically charged as adults under Michigan law in the death of Wilford “Frenchie” Hamilton.

A security guard found Hamilton, 61, unconscious and bleeding from the head in an alley on Aug. 21, 2008. He died a week later.

Separately, McCloud and a 16-year-old also were charged in the beating death of a second 61-year-old homeless man that same week. The group was accused, but not charged, in two other non-fatal attacks.

“They were boys who beat up homeless people because they wanted to,” Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said.

Tillman admits he and his friends dealt drugs, stole cars and robbed people, but denies they targeted defenseless victims for sport.

“That’s not exciting to kill the homeless,” he says from prison, agitated by the suggestion. “That’s not fun. People remind me of that every day. That’s not me.”

At trial, Pontiac Detective Steve Wittebort testified Tillman admitted to kicking and hitting a man three to four times before he told his friends to stop, then ran off.

Before interrogation, Tillman waived his right to an attorney, but police allowed his mother to sit in. She encouraged him to describe his role, and chided him when he admitted it, transcripts show.

“You’re going to get in trouble ‘cause you were in it too,” Darlene Tillman said at the time. “I just told ya’ll last week, don’t be with them. Don’t be bothering nobody. Don’t be doing nothing to nobody.”

An assault or not?

Looking back, Tillman says he was confused during the interrogation. He may have assaulted a man that week, he says, but he believes that victim survived.

LIFEROLDEST.jpg

“I know I did things out there I’m not proud of,” he says, “and I know I have to change. I think God tested me to change my life. If I’d stayed out there, I would be dead or have got into something else.”

Separate juries convicted Tillman and McCloud of first-degree felony murder, meaning they participated in a crime where someone was killed. McCloud became the third-youngest juvenile lifer in the state.

Michigan law required both be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

“You and your co-defendant literally kicked a man to death,” visiting Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Steven Andrews told Tillman, apparently outraged at the crime but frustrated by the sentencing requirement. “This is a sad day for the criminal justice system, the person you killed and his family.”

Tillman’s mother ran from the courtroom in tears. Dontez also wept as he hung his head.

“I just felt so many people was judging me,” he recalls. “I didn’t even want to look around. I was so embarrassed. Yeah, I was crying. If somebody tells you ‘life’ and you don’t cry, you are a murderer. That’s not me.”

Living in prison

Like many 17-year-olds, Tillman spends his days doing chores, taking classes, playing sports, listening to his MP3 player and watching TV. But he does so in prison, where the threat of violence is part of his otherwise monotonous routine.

“It gets tiring and boring, always doing the same thing,” he says, sitting in a crowded visitor’s area. “But I know what I’m into, and the structure keeps us out of trouble.”

Until he turns 21, Tillman will live in the juvenile unit, where is he working on his G.E.D., taking other classes and studying the Bible. He sees McCloud every day. They remain best friends, but do not talk about spending life in prison.

“It’s depressing and embarrassing,” he says. “We talk about what we could do if we got out, not stay in. It just pulls you down. You don’t want to feel like that. You want to look forward.”

Tillman has made a few friends in prison, but largely heeds the advice of his sentencing judge: keep to himself; stay out of trouble. Authorities cited him for two instances of fighting early on, but he is working hard to keep his record clean.

“Classes helped my behavior and my education,” he said. “When I was 15, it was wild in here, but it showed me I could be a better man, that violence isn’t the way I want to live.”

Plea deals rejected

He didn’t have to face life.

Prosecutors offered Tillman a deal — before trial and again during jury deliberation — that would have imprisoned him as little as 15 years if he pleaded to second-degree murder.

Tillman’s mother told him to refuse, and he listened.

Darrin Higgins Jr., the 15-year-old who was prosecuted separately with McCloud, accepted a similar deal. His earliest release date is in 16 years.

“I think there’s no question my client should have taken the deal and shouldn’t be serving a life sentence without parole,” said Jonathan Sacks, Tillman’s appellate lawyer, during a motion hearing last year.

“The ringleader of the group, who was the one behind this homicide, he knows enough to plead guilty, and he gets a very reasonable sentence for a really horrific offense.”

Sacks asked Circuit Court Judge Rudy Nichols to declare Tillman’s sentence cruel and unusual punishment for a 14-year-old, “who by the prosecutor’s own admission did not have intent to kill.”

Nichols did not grant the request, but a U.S. District Court judge is poised to hear a similar argument in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a 16-year-old who played a role in a Detroit drug deal that ended with gunfire and a death.

The federal lawsuit has reignited a long-simmering debate over Michigan’s ban on parole for certain juvenile killers. Critics say the law ignores the potential for young criminals to grow into healthy adults.

“I can understand nobody wants to give up on a young person,” said Cooper, the Oakland prosecutor who spent 28 years as a judge before being elected to her current post.

“I understand that philosophy, but I have also had life experiences and ran into a couple young people who were sociopaths. I think that sociopaths are born. I don’t think that they’re made.”

Tillman, who is growing into a man but still uses pop-culture references like a teen, wants a second chance to challenge such assumptions.

“I want somebody to look at me and see a good person, but they don’t trust that we can change,” he said. “How can somebody be born a killer? That’s like Jason (from Friday the 13th), but even he went through some things. Nobody is born to kill. Nobody.”

If you have been charged with a crime contact Daniel Ambrose at 248-624-5500

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Michigan ranked 2nd In country in Juvenile No-Parole Sentences

A news organization says Michigan ranks second in the nation in the number of prisoners sentenced as juveniles to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Michigan law makes a sentence of life without parole mandatory for first-degree murder.

MLive.com and its affiliated Booth Newspapers report today that 358 Michigan prisoners were juveniles when they were sentenced to life without parole. That’s second only to Pennsylvania, which has 472 prisoners who got life-no parole sentences as juveniles.

Nationwide, the news group says about 2,500 people are serving life without parole sentences they received as juveniles.

Michigan has about 10 million residents, or about 3% of the nation’s 300 million people. But Michigan has about 14% of the nation’s prisoners with no-parole sentences received as juveniles.

If you have been charged with a crime contact Daniel Ambrose at 248-624-5500

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Three Teens Receive Life In Prison – Do You Agree?

A teen, convicted of murdering her adoptive father, and her accomplices have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Tia Skinner, 18, James Preston, 19, and Jonathan Kurtz, 19, have been sentenced to life in prison wouthout any chance of parole in the stabbing death of Paul Skinner.

The courtroom proceedings started around 9:15 a.m. The courtroom was full of people and was standing room only.

The suspects are all dressed in their orange jail clothes. They are all sitting in front of their attorneys without showing any emotion so far.

Kurtz addressed the court and turned to those in the courtroom and said in barely audible voice, “I’m sorry for doing what we did”. He then went on to shock everyone in the courtroom when he said to Judge Daniel Kelly “On behalf of everyone you put away for life, (expletive) you”.

James Preston stood before the judge and said “Convicting me is an injustice, the prosecution has failed to do that in my case.”

Paul Skinner was murdered while his wife, Mara, survived with serious injuries. Tia Skinner is the couple’s adopted daughter.

Police say Tia was upset over her parents’ disapproval of her relationship with co-defendant Jonathan Kurtz.

Tia Skinner just apologized to the community and her family.

“I love my family so very much … and realize I was given the best life I could have had,” said Tia Skinner.

Mara Skinner is in the courtroom and is seated in the front row. She is seated next to her other children. Prosecutors say she will be one of several people making victim impact statements prior to sentencing.

Read full story here
Do you feel teenagers should face life sentences? Let us know your thoughts!
If you are a juvenile facing criminal charges contact Dan Ambrose at 248-624-5500 and visit our website www.ambroselawgroup.com

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Is Your Toddler Going To Be A Criminal?

The Telegraph published an article stating that badly behaved children are more likely to have health and financial issues as adults.  Therefore if these youngsters are identified early on you could tackle issues like drug abuse and crime by providing them with extra programs that taught self-control, decision making and what consequences are.  Read the full article here

Do you agree with  the science?

Holly@ambroselawgroup.com

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Penalties Of Using A Fake ID To Buy Alcohol In Michigan

Are you under 21 and have used a fake ID to buy alcohol at the bar or store?  Well, under MCL 436.1703, you are guilty of a misdemeanor and if you are ever caught, you could spend up to 93 days in jail, be fined up to $100.00, or both.  The Secretary of State will also suspend any valid driver’s license or chaffuer’s license that you may have for 90 days.

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What Teens Need To Know About The Law

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Joe Younger Conclusion

For those who followed our  work on the Joe Younger trial we have some more good news to report!

Joe plead no-contest to all charges and was put on the juvenile consent calendar.  As long as he succcessfully completes his probation he will walk away with a clean record.

 

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Oakland County Sentences 2 Juveniles To Life In Prison

Dontez Tillman and Thomas McCloud were 14-year-old middle schoolers in Pontiac in the summer of 2008.

Neither was old enough to drive, drink, nor apply for a video store membership.

Today, Tillman and McCloud are serving mandatory life sentences in a Lapeer prison, convicted as adults of first-degree murder in November of 2009 for the beating deaths of two homeless men over three days with older teens.

“I screwed up my life,” McCloud told the Free Press in a prison interview. “I wish I could take it all back, that I never left the house that day.”

Their case brings into focus Michigan’s position in a national debate over how to handle young killers. Michigan has 352 prisoners serving mandatory life sentences for crimes committed while they were juveniles — the second-highest number in the country, behind Pennsylvania at 444.

Legislators and the U.S. Supreme Court are rethinking the idea of sending teens away to prison forever. Michigan is among 12 states where legislation has been introduced that would ban the practice, or at least give judges some discretion. Texas and Colorado in recent years have banned mandatory life for juveniles.

But Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, whose office tried Tillman and McCloud, said the boys are exactly where they belong. “These are gut-wrenching, soul-searching determinations,” she said.

As the debate continues, Tillman, now 15, and McCloud, now 16, spend their days in a juvenile unit at the Thumb Correctional Facility, an adult prison in Lapeer. At age 21, they will be transferred to the state’s adult prison population to spend the rest of their lives.

Some say teens don’t know better

Tillman and McCloud were not listening to their lawyers in the months leading up to their 2009 first-degree murder trial.

Prosecutors were offering the two middle-schoolers a deal: Tell us who helped you stomp and beat to death two homeless men, and we’ll let you plead to second-degree murder. They could walk free in 15 years.

Take the deal, their attorneys urged.

Instead, the two listened to their mothers, who said no. A jury then convicted both boys as adults for first-degree murder in Novembe of 2009.

Tillman and McCloud are among Michigan’s total 45,000 inmates. Their days are spent doing chores, watching television or walking in the exercise yard. They will likely never walk free.

Their story paints a terrible irony. They are boys old enough to be charged as adults under Michigan’s stringent get-tough-on-juveniles laws. Yet they are children who deferred to their mothers for the most important decision in their young lives — a decision that put them behind bars for life.

Do you think that juveniles should be sentenced as adults?

If you have questions on a juvenile crime case contact Samantha Moffett at (248) 624-5500 or email her at Samantha@ambroselawgroup.com

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Studies Show That Teens Are Less Blameworthy Than Adults

In the early part of the decade, researchers for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice found that teenagers are less blameworthy than adults, and that their capacities change significantly over the course of adolescence.

The MacArthur Foundation Research Network recognized that legal sanctions for misbehavior should not be based only on the harm a youth causes, but on the youth’s culpability.

Most people would agree. Every day, different defendants receive different sentences even if they caused the same harm. This is because defendants differ in culpability, or blameworthiness. At no other time are these differences more pronounced than during adolescence, when youths struggle with their immaturity, un-developed decision-making abilities, impulsiveness, lack of future orientation and susceptibility to negative peer pressure.

Recent brain imaging technology reinforces the adolescent development literature. From the prefrontal cortex to the limbic area, the teenage brain is undergoing dramatic changes during adolescence in ways that affect teens’ ability to reason, to weigh consequences for their decisions and to delay gratification long enough to make careful short- and long-term choices.

In their 2008 book “Rethinking Juvenile Justice,” MacArthur researchers Dr. Laurence Steinberg and Elizabeth Scott concluded that young people under age 15 should never be tried as adults.

Steinberg and Scott make clear that mitigation because of youth — the fact that teens are less blameworthy than adults — is not the same as an excuse. That is, trying youths in juvenile court is not the same as absolving them of responsibility.

Ten years under juvenile court supervision, for an 11-year-old, is a very long time. The point is that while youths should be punished for their crimes, it should be done in a developmentally appropriate way. Any parent would know that it makes little sense to punish a 10-year-old the same as a 17-year-old.

Do you agree?

If you know of a juvenile being charged as an adult please contact Samantha Moffett at 248 624 5500 or Samantha@ambroselawgroup.com

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