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High schooler submits amicus brief in juvenile-lifer case to Michigan Supreme Court

Posted Feb 20, 2014 11:32 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The Michigan Supreme Court has accepted a teen’s amicus brief written on behalf of 450 students—85 percent of the student body—at her Catholic high school in Ann Arbor.

The principal author was Matilyn Sarosi, 16, who worked on the brief during several recent snow days, according to a story by the Detroit Free Press. The SBM Blog reported on Wednesday that the court accepted the brief.

Sarosi’s brief for students at Father Gabriel Richard High School argues that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning mandatory life sentences for juveniles should be applied retroactively. The brief cites Supreme Court decisions, adolescent brain research, the promise of redemption and personal experience.

One section of the brief is entitled, “It is rocket science.”

“You don't need science to tell you that teenagers make stupid, impulsive, and often reckless decisions. But it is tremendously helpful to tell you why we do. Many times we don't even know why we did them! As a teenager, this brief's author's best guess is that it's just a spur of the moment, spontaneous gut reaction. We think only about the positive outcomes: how funny it would be, the reactions of our friends, how cool other people would consider us, or being able to feel like we ‘fit in.’ Not on the forefront of our brains, however, are the negative and harmful effects, of who may get hurt, or suffer serious disciplinary action.”

The brief offers an example of adolescent immaturity taken from the high-school experience: an incident a few years ago when several seniors were not allowed to attend graduation “because of rash decisions made on 'Senior Day.' ” The brief argues that teens can change, and provides another example: the annual award given to a senior deemed the most changed from freshman year.

The law firm Miller Johnson wrote in an introduction that it assured the accuracy of case citations for the brief and helped assure formal requirements were met, but every word in the brief was authored by the students, with primary drafting credit to Sarosi.

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