Michigan Enacts Reform of "650-Lifer" Law
On July 2, Michigan Governor John Engler (R) signed measures reforming the state's "650-lifer" law, passed in 1973, which mandated a life sentence without parole for anyone convicted of possessing, delivering, or intending to deliver over 650 grams of cocaine or heroin (Families Against Mandatory Minimums, "No More `650 Lifer Law,'" FAMM Campaign Survey 1998, p. 3; "Legislature passes `650-Lifer Law' reform," Michigan Chronicle, July 15-21, 1998, A3; Kathleen Gray, "House, Senate compromise on drug-lifer law," Oakland (MI) Press, July 3, 1998; "Drug `lifers' to get parole under bill House adopts," Ann Arbor News, June 25, 1998, p. C7; Gary Graig, "25 years later, drug law questioned," Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, June 17, 1998, p. A1).
The new law changes the mandatory life sentence to "life or any term of years, not less than 20" for future "650-lifer" offenders. On July 28, Engler signed another bill (Public Act 314 of 1998) to make that change applicable to offenders sentenced under the 1973 law, allowing parole eligibility.
There are 220 people currently serving sentences under the "650-lifer" law. They and future offenders will be eligible for parole after serving 17-20 years in prison. Current and future offenders may become eligible for parole two years earlier if a judge determines that the individual has cooperated with law enforcement. The Michigan Parole Board, in making parole decisions about "650-lifer offenders," must consider the individual's culpability in the drug trade, whether a minor was involved, or if the offense was committed in a "drug-free school zone."
"They have restored some hope to individuals who made a serious mistake and deserved to be punished, but don't deserve to die in prison," said Laura Sager, director of the Michigan Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which helped shape and lobbied for the reform laws. However, Sager added, "Make no mistake, the [revised] `650 Lifer Law' remains one of the harshest drug laws in the U.S. There is nothing `soft' about a penalty that is still more severe than that for second degree murder."
For background information, see "Michigan Considers Reform of Mandatory Minimums," NewsBriefs, September-October 1997; "Signing Drug Lifer Law Was a Mistake, Says Former Michigan Governor," NewsBriefs, February 1998.
Laura Sager - Michigan Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Tel: (517) 482-4982.