Michigan Judge Sentences 15 Year Old to Life Without Parole

14 year old Dakota Eliason shot and killed his grandfather. He said he went back and forth for hours debating whether to kill him or commit suicide, and decided to on the former.

The DA charged him in adult court. Monday, a Michigan judge imposed a sentence of life without parole, finding it violated neither the Constitution nor international treaties. He rejected a sentence of life with parole saying the law didn't authorize it. His opinion is here. His lawyer disagrees:

“Anyone that's spent any time around that kid will tell you he's a loving kid, certainly at his point, people that don't know him are defining him by the one terrible thing he did but he does have remorse he does wish he could take it back,” said defense attorney Lanny Fisher.


Here's Dakota addressing the court and his family at the sentencing:


Back to the judge: On why Dakota killed his grandfather:

Defendant was trying to cope with the recent suicide of a close friend, but otherwise he was attempting to work through problems common to many 14-year-old boys. His parents separated when he was very young. He didn't see his mother and half-brother as much as he'd like. He chafed under the high expectations of his father. His dog died.

There's no mention of how 14 year old brains don't process things the same way as adults.

On the U.S. treaty obligations, he said the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not preclude imposition of a life without parole sentence.

Defendant also argues that the ICCPR protects defendant from being treated and sentenced as an adult in this case. However, as with Article 7, in ratifying the ICCPR, the United States reserved the right to treat juveniles as adults "in exceptional circumstances". The court finds that the facts of this case constitute just such exceptional circumstances.

He next addressed and rejected arguments based on The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the U.S. in 1994.

He also refused to apply the The International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,which the U.S. ratified in 1994.

Then he ruled that the life sentence wasn't banned by the Convention on the Rights of the Child nor international law. He said while the U.S. passed it, the Senate never ratified it so we aren't a party to it.

Studies are clear. See the Juvenile Policy Institute's study, "The Risks Juveniles Face When They Are Incarcerated With Adults." Kids housed with adults in prison are 7 times more likely to be assaulted; Their suicide rate in adult jails is 7.7 times higher than that of juvenile detention centers.

According to Law Enforcement:

Children are abused more regularly and driven to desperation in prison facilities more quickly. Adult prisons and jails are not equipped to protect young offenders from these risks as well, they are more likely to fall through the cracks.

Juveniles are more likely to be raped in an adult prison:

Five times as many youth held in adult prisons answered yes to the question "has anyone attempted to sexually attack or rape you" than those held in juvenile institutions. Close to ten percent of the youth interviewed reported a sexual attack, or rape attempt had been levied against them in the adult prisons, while closer to one -percent reported the same in the juvenile institution.

Rape of juveniles in adult prisons are especially high:

In an expose on prisons published in The New Republic, a corrections officer is quoted saying that a young inmate's chance of avoiding rape were "almost zero.... He'll get raped within the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours. That's almost standard."22 As the juveniles sent to adult prison system will be the youngest inmates on the block, they will likely face the greatest risk of being sexually attacked.

In May, the Surpreme Court ruled juveniles can only be sentenced to life without parole if the crime was a homicide. It's way past time that it goes the extra mile, and outlaws lwop sentences for all juveniles.

FrontLine had an interesting program last year, When Juveniles Get Life. In Michigan alone, 346 children are serving lwop. In Illinios, it's103; Missouri is at 116.Florida has 266 and California has 250. Louisiana has 355. Pensylsvania has 444. Texas New Jersey and New York have zero.

In 2006, Colorado passed a law providing that juveniles sentenced to life could be eligible for parole after 40 years. As usual, the law was not made retoractive and does nothing to help the 48 already serving life sentences when the law was passed.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Can a 15 Year Old... (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by ScottW714 on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 11:35:58 AM EST
    ... legally pick their own attorney or are they obligated to go with the parent's discretion, ditto for any decisions made in this case ?

    The more I think about this case the more it really bothers me that this child is being handled like an adult.  

    Just seems like there is a double standard, for all the good things associated with being an adult, 18 is the definitive age, no exceptions.  But then for anything bad, we go as low as need be, forget any sort of standard, it's different for everyone.  That just seems to go against everything our justice system represents.

    Essentially we can send this kid into an adult prison, then if he were somehow found innocent, he could be released and still have to be home at 9, or get grounded, or even legally get spanked, should his parents decide.

    That is just non-sense.

    It goes some distance (none / 0) (#18)
    by jondee on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 12:07:39 PM EST
    in explaining why sexual predation is such a problem in this country (inside and outside of our prisons), when we see how many judges, prosecutors and bloggers there are who view age as a relatively minor "mitigating factor". Maybe the people at Dateline should forgo the sting operations from now on and just start staking out the homes of some of the in-abundance adults in this country who are so cavalier about thinking juveniles should be "tried" as adults.  

    Terrible Verdict (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by AngryBlackGuy on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 11:46:13 AM EST
    This should not happen in a civilized society.

    Shame on us.

    So this kid gets LWOP, and Omar Khadr (none / 0) (#1)
    by republicratitarian on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 07:31:36 AM EST
    the child soldier at Gitmo, who is not a U.S. citizen gets what?
    This is all starting to make my head spin.
    Not that I'm condoning murder by a 14 year old.

    I'm Curious (none / 0) (#2)
    by ScottW714 on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 08:23:08 AM EST
    I'm curious as to why half the article is about rapes in prison ?  Even if he got 10 years, seems like he is just as susceptible to being assaulted as he is with life considering, "He'll get raped within the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours."

    Are you arguing the sentence is too long (which I agree) or that he should be sent to juvi (which I'm not sure about) or that rapes in prison are really bad for youths ?

    What do you think is the best for this boy ?

    I believe that children are our future... (none / 0) (#3)
    by kdog on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 08:31:25 AM EST
    lock them up for lwop....show them all the evil we posess in-siiiiide.

    you believe murderous 15 yr olds (none / 0) (#40)
    by nyrias on Wed Oct 27, 2010 at 02:20:45 PM EST
    are your future?

    I am glad we are having a different future.


    He threw away one human life (none / 0) (#4)
    by Harry Saxon on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 08:38:04 AM EST
    so to punish him and to serve as an example, his own will be wasted as well.

    an argument can be made (none / 0) (#5)
    by nyjets on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 08:42:26 AM EST
    An argument can be made that the murder wasted his own life when he murdered his grandfather.

    I'm not saying there shouldn't be any punishment (none / 0) (#6)
    by Harry Saxon on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 08:51:15 AM EST
    for what he did, but as has been mentioned earlier, he is still developing physically and psychologically.

    Treating him as an adult demonstrates a lack of mercy similar to that he had towards his grandfather.


    I have never totally bought that (none / 0) (#7)
    by nyjets on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 08:54:05 AM EST
    As a young person, yes, there are some mitgating factors that should be considered that would not be used if an adult commited the crime.
    However, if the only mitgating factor is that is 'he is only 14,' that is not good enough. There has to be other mitgating factors as well.

    Then you'd be in favor of elimiating (5.00 / 0) (#8)
    by Harry Saxon on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 08:59:32 AM EST
    juvenile courts, as well?

    Because that's their raison d'etre in the first place, and that's the logical outcome of your reasoning here.


    No i would not (none / 0) (#9)
    by nyjets on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 09:08:07 AM EST
    I would agree that for minor crimes juvenile courts are great. And I would agree that giving a juvenile a second change for minor crimes is also a good thing.
    However, for serious crimes like murder with no mitgating factors, juvenile courts are inadequate.
    And I do agree it is up to the judge and courts to decide who gets jurisidications.

    nyjets (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by ScottW714 on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 10:41:48 AM EST
    So the fact that he was 14, probably in 8th grade, at the time of the crime isn't a mitigating factor ?

    We have all kinds of laws for minors because of their age, they can't drink, they can't drive, they can't work a 40 hour week, they can't vote, and they can't make their own legal decisions, yet in your mind they are capable of serving time in an adult prison ?

    To me either you give them adult rights or you treat them like every other facet of the law does, as children.  I am not comfortable with sending a child to the wolves no matter the crime.  If they aren't up to the task, then maybe we should examine the courts, not use a barbaric alternative because it's the only one available.


    It's not that black and white (none / 0) (#22)
    by jbindc on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 12:50:57 PM EST
    To me either you give them adult rights or you treat them like every other facet of the law does, as children.

    I've asked here before and gotten no good answers, because it doesn't comport with "liberal theology":

    What about the case of abortion?  Is a 14 or 15 year old capable of making a life or death decision when it comes to reproductive rights?  Many here would vociferously argue that, yes, they should be allowed to make that decision for a variety of reasons.  But it follows then - if a 14 or 15 year old can make that decision, why can they not make the adult decision to kill and be punished as an adult?

    To argue that one is ok and the other is not is inconsistent and hypocritical.

    This is a tragic story all the way around.  I don't know what the answer is, but it is clearly not just a case of if someone is under 18 when they commit a crime, then they must automatically be treated differently than someone who is 18 years and 1 day.


    we've had this conversation before (none / 0) (#23)
    by CST on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 12:56:30 PM EST
    but I guess it bears repeating.

    It's not hypocritical because it's based on the same premise.

    A 14 year old is not enough of an adult to have a baby.


    Interesting that the minds (none / 0) (#27)
    by jondee on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 02:03:49 PM EST
    of some immediately jump to the abortion issue - which they're probably never more than six degrees from in any discussion - when the issue under discussion is whether or not juveniles are adults.

    One can't help but wonder whether this openess to the idea of trying juveniles as adults is a way of getting back at those pro-choice "liberal theologians". After all, if the Good Lord in his infinite wisdom made them capable of reproducing, that must mean that they (and society at large), could benefit from some of his Old Testament justice -- remorselessly administered, the way he's administered the laws of nature.    



    not to mention (none / 0) (#28)
    by CST on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 02:11:23 PM EST
    "life or death decision" assumes a premise of life beginning at conception and abortion = death/murder.

    Which is not a view I share.

    And the follow up question is "are they adult enough to make decisions about sex - so should we really teach them about safe sex?"

    The answer to that is - not always but they do it anyway, so you give them the option of making better decisions about it.

    I've had this conversation before with jbdinc.  So I'm just having it now pre-emptively with myself :)


    No, it does not (none / 0) (#35)
    by Romberry on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 06:35:22 PM EST
    What about the case of abortion?  Is a 14 or 15 year old capable of making a life or death decision when it comes to reproductive rights?  Many here would vociferously argue that, yes, they should be allowed to make that decision for a variety of reasons.  But it follows then - if a 14 or 15 year old can make that decision, why can they not make the adult decision to kill and be punished as an adult?

    That is non sequitur reasoning if ever I saw it. One thing has nothing at all to do with the other. So no, it does not follow (which is what non sequitur means.)


    Of Course... (none / 0) (#39)
    by ScottW714 on Wed Oct 27, 2010 at 10:34:24 AM EST
    ... abortion fits right into this discussion (rolling my eyes).

    This is a privacy issue, as it always has been.  As mentioned above, does this kid have the right to pick his own attorney and plan his own defense.  No one commented, but I assume he does because his privacy is more important than the parents rights to parent.

    Children have privacy rights which trump parents rights, especially when those rights are carried into adulthood, like pregnancy and a murder trial.  I don't see the problem.  Do children have no privacy, can some clown check to verify his daughter's hymen is in tack until her 18th birthday, which for some could mean college days ?  No, because privacy, even for children is an issue the state takes fairly seriously and serious parents recognize this as well.  When one decides the right of their children are secondary to the rights of a microscopic zygote one would wonder who the parents are really looking out for, their own ideology or their living and breathing offspring.

    For the record, 'life and death decisions' is your wording, not that of clearly established law nor the AMA.  But nice try.  If you are going to define life at inception, a 14 yr old would be +9 or 10 months, which is beyond ridiculous.  Life starts at birth no matter what your 'conservative theology' dictates.

    Can you imagine the quagmire created by defining life at inception, decided by the parents, no would know their actual age, people could file for SS at 64+ 2 or 3 months.  Who votes, who can marry, who can drive, who can drink, everything would be dictated by estimated date of inception.

    An yes, we as a society have defined the age of 18 as adulthood, does anything physically change on that date, no, but everything legally does.  Your parents are no longer obligate financially or legally to care for you, you get the right to vote, and with most crimes it moves you from one court to another.  You are eligible for a draft, and you can actually make legal decisions w/o an adult.  It is easily the most important legal distinction we have in regards to age.  Pretending this date is some inconsequential random date only proves how little this arguement has been thought out.

    Not to mention that this kid was 14 at the time of the crime, so arguing 18-1 day or 18+1 day is silly because you are off anywhere from 1095 days to 1460 days off the mark, hardly the inconsequential number you are arguing.

    To all the people who agree with this decision, what is the absolute bottom age we will allow in our adult prisons ?


    I could see if the defendant were (none / 0) (#10)
    by Harry Saxon on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 09:15:05 AM EST
    30 years old that LWOP would be justified for the same case, but to treat children like adults because the crime was a major one doesn't make sense to me.

    Our society says you are not an adult yet, you can't drive, buy alcohol, or vote. But if the crime is horrific enough, we'll treat you like an adult.

    Welcome to adult prison, here's your new boyfriend.


    There's a cognative dissonance (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Harry Saxon on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 10:46:45 AM EST
    when somebody doesn't object to me pointing out the fact that a 14-year old isn't an adult mentally or physically(not that the latter is relevant in this particular case) but then goes on to say that if that's 'the only factor' it doesn't count because murder is a major crime.

    Me either (none / 0) (#36)
    by Romberry on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 06:39:05 PM EST
    When I see people pushing to treat children as adults in the legal system, I wonder if they have ever stopped to think about what they were like at the age of the child in question at the time of the crime. At 14, I was still engaged in some fantasical thinking that was not really grounded in adult reality. (Maybe that's because at 14 I was a kid.)

    People should stop and think. It often seems to me that the desire for punishment and retribution short circuits the process of thinking.


    THe one problem with that POV (none / 0) (#37)
    by nyjets on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 06:49:26 PM EST
    Most kids do not commit violent crimes and murder.
    I think while most people believe that kids deserve the benefit of the doubt for minor crimes, when it comes to serious crimes, like murder, youth should not be an excuse. By 'going easy' on a young person who commited a violent crime, you put society at risk and tell a victim he or she will not get justice become the criminal is a young person.
    I also think that a lot of people have the mentality: "I was no angel when I was a kid. But, I was not a murder."

    Sorry, I don't see the problem (none / 0) (#38)
    by Romberry on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 07:31:23 PM EST
    I just don't. "Most kids do not commit violent crimes and murder"? Most people don't commit violent crimes and murder.

    Children are children, not adults. Holding them responsible as adults and essentially throwing them away when the person they are as a child is not the person they are destined to be as an adult is, for me, an obscenity.


    the scary thing is that ... (none / 0) (#41)
    by nyrias on Wed Oct 27, 2010 at 02:25:38 PM EST
    he did it without any apparent motive. And notice that he actually THOUGHT about it FOR HOURS before DECIDING to kill.

    Who says he wont snap again and kill some other people?


    Are we definitely sure that he'll go (none / 0) (#15)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 11:40:33 AM EST
    directly to adult prison? And not to juvie until he's 18?

    Also, I assume he'll appeal, and I assume that process will take a year or two, where will he be incarcerated during that time?

    And not to juvie - (none / 0) (#16)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 11:45:57 AM EST
    or some other form of not-general-population-with-adults prison - until he's 18?

    Again, the real issue is (none / 0) (#19)
    by jondee on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 12:23:37 PM EST
    do fourteen year olds possess the cognitive ability to be measured by adult standards?

    Is the bench mark and crowning achievement of adulthood in this country now the ability to take a life? Son, you're a man now (congratulations!); you've proven you can kill a fellow human being..


    If you don't wish to discuss (none / 0) (#24)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 12:58:15 PM EST
    juveniles and adult prison, in particular this juvenile and adult prison - a discussion  initiated by our host - feel free to just scroll on by...

    I also feel free (none / 0) (#25)
    by jondee on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 01:24:53 PM EST
    to express my opinion on the what the most salient issues are in discussions about the trying of juveniles as adults.

    to spend the time and effort to include multiple quotes and linkages about the issue, maybe you could give her the respect of not diminishing her issue as not a "real issue."

    To stay on topic, I have googled extensively and I can't find any definitive info as to where Dakotah would be incarcerated as a minor - both during his appeal and/or when serving his actual time - nor, as a juvenile, whether there would be any special arrangements made for him while incarcerated due to his age.

    Since this is of no interest to you, I don't expect you to have any of this info. So, again, feel free to scroll right on by...


    I'm sure JM (none / 0) (#29)
    by jondee on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 02:18:09 PM EST
    appreciates you having her back like that, su.

    But the court of public opinion can determine whether or not my two cents "diminish" in any way any of the issues that she's touched on (which, btw, seems to be your self-appointed mission here).



    you are free to express (none / 0) (#33)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 04:06:14 PM EST
    your law and order opinion, but only in four comments a day, otherwise you are chattering. Per the comment rules.

    Also, I appreciate moderation help.


    Whether he's 15, 18 or 21 when (none / 0) (#32)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 04:04:20 PM EST
    he goes to adult prison, he's still at greater risk. Just a question of degree.

    True enough. (none / 0) (#34)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 04:38:20 PM EST
    let the Democratic governor decide (none / 0) (#20)
    by diogenes on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 12:28:52 PM EST
    Michigan has a governor of the Democratic persuasion who has it within her power to pardon or commute this sentence.  

    Even Democratic governors (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by jondee on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 12:42:56 PM EST
    get reticent about drawing lines in the sand that could make red America overly uncomfortable over what it does with it's stripling cousins, nieces and nephews..

    This even gets into reproduction rights and keeping family lines intact, in some cases.


    "texas has none" (none / 0) (#30)
    by cpinva on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 02:21:13 PM EST
    probably because in texas, they'd just execute them.

    to address the abortion strawman:

    having a child, while still a child yourself, has a far more, long-term, adverse affect on your life, than not being able to drink, sign a valid contract or buy stock does. as well, minors must still either get their parent's permission, or that of a court, before they can legally have an abortion, they can't just show up at the clinic door and demand one.

    out of curiousity, are michigan judges elected or appointed? not that i'm at all suggesting (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) that elected judges would ever take politics into account, when rendering verdicts or sentences.