It’s Not What a Person Did: It’s What the Person is Convicted of.

Author: Dwight Henley, M.B.A.

Many criminal justice proponents and politicians tell the public that first-degree murderers constitute an ongoing threat to society. To support this position, they highlight extreme cases involving a serial or mass murderer. However, most people convicted of first-degree murder are much different from the serial killers that criminal justice proponents and politicians highlight. Some people convicted of first-degree murder never touched the victim. In some instances, the Michigan Parole Board deems the actual perpetrator safe and releases the person back into society while the aider and abettor (accessory) remains imprisoned for life.

To offer a few examples, in one case a guy watched his brother get beat up. This guy asked his brother, “Are you going to accept that?” His brother reached into a car, grabbed a gun, and fatally shot the person. The shooter was released 17 years later while his brother remained incarcerated forever–deemed unsafe for society. In another case, a guy joined his accomplice in a robbery. During the robbery, the accomplice got scared and fatally shot the victim. The shooter was paroled into society 12 years later while his accomplice, who never physically harmed anyone, remains imprisoned for life. In a third case, two guys robbed and murdered a person during a factitious drug deal. The one guy shot the victim 3 times in the arm and once in the side and the accomplice stabbed the victim 27 times with an awl, 9 times in the head. The Parole Board deemed the person who stabbed the guy safe for society and paroled him in 2005-2006, but his co-defendant remains incarcerated for life. If these perpetrators are not a threat to society, how can their accomplices constitute a threat?

Violent perpetrators get paroled while their accomplices remain incarcerated for life because public safety does not drive parole decisions; the person’s conviction dictates parole decisions. IN each of these examples, the perpetrators who got paroled was not convicted of first-degree murder but of a lesser included crime. As such, the Michigan Parole Board found these perpetrators safe for society. Conversely, the co-defendants, who remain incarcerated for life, were all convicted of being an accessory to first-degree murder. As a result, our Parole Board finds them an ongoing threat to society.

Should a person’s conviction or actions dictate the Parole Board’s assessment for release? Let’s look at another case. Sam took two victims to a vacant field, made them kneel down, and then shot them executive style. Sam took a plea to second-degree murder and ultimately got released. Would society rather have Sam in society or the above-mentioned perpetrators who never physically harmed someone? Whether it be from a value standpoint or from a public safety stand-point, clearly those who never physically harm someone should not remain imprisoned for life while people convicted of executing people get released.

Perhaps the better question is, how do violent perpetrators get convicted of second-degree murder while their accomplices who never harmed anyone get convicted of first-degree murder? The people who commit these violent acts unquestionably understand the nature of their actions. As such, these perpetrators quickly pursue plea deals with prosecutors, sometimes even to testify against their less culpable accomplices. The person who never physically harmed anyone, on the other hand, has a hard time grasping why his actions make him responsible for the death or why a 20-25 year pleas is appropriate, because he or she never harmed anyone. In the end, the perpetrator who is guilty of first-degree murder pleads guilty to second-degree murder and gets released into society, while the aider and abettor (accessory) challenges his culpability at trial and gets convicted of first-degree murder.

While the argument can be made that both perpetrators in these crimes deserve Life, this point deflects from the underlining question about public safety. If the goal of our criminal justice system and the Michigan Parole Board is to protect society, should they not be looking at what a person did as opposed to what they stand convicted of? Can anyone say public officials are promoting public safety when they release people who personally murdered people and keep incarcerated the accomplices who didn’t physically harm anyone? I say our criminal justice system is created to protect society, and doing so requires that the Parole Board make decisions based upon what a person did, not what he stands convicted of. Otherwise, our state will continue to release people who have taken someone’s life while keeping incarcerated forever the perpetrator’s accomplice who never physically harmed the victim.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *