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A Better Partnership
December 29, 2017

Fear itself . . . is not a "serious psychological injury"

Michigan’s sentencing guidelines manual provides for an increase of 10 sentencing points if the crime caused a victim to suffer a “serious psychological injury requiring professional treatment.”  In People v White, Case No. 149490, the Michigan Supreme Court held that evidence that the victim was fearful during the commission of the crime is insufficient to show serious psychological injury requiring treatment, even if a reasonable person in the victim’s situation would suffer such an injury.  In doing so, the Court overruled People v Apgar, 264 Mich App 321; 690 NW2d 312 (2004).
In White, the defendant and an accomplice robbed a gas station with guns drawn.  The defendant held a gun to the cashier’s head as his accomplice searched the store.  The cashier testified that at the moment the gun was held to her head, she was afraid that she would be shot.  She testified that at one point, she actually thought she heard the trigger being pulled.  She did not testify, however, that she suffered any after-the-fact psychological injury.
Nevertheless, the trial court observed that any reasonable person would suffer a serious psychological injury from the fear of imminent death.  The court thus assessed the 10 sentencing points for a serious psychological injury requiring professional treatment.
In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed and remanded for resentencing without the 10 points.  The Court rejected the trial court’s “reasonable person” test.  The Court instead held that the points can only be assessed if there is proof that the victim actually suffered a serious psychological injury.  In this same vein, the Court held that fear during the commission of the crime is not enough, noting that “a court cannot merely assume that a victim has suffered a serious psychological injury solely because of the characteristics of the crime.”  This aspect of the Court’s holding overruled People v Apgar, 264 Mich App 321; 690 NW2d 312 (2004).

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