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July 31, 2015

MSC rules that mandatory Michigan Sentencing Guidelines are unconstitutional; sentencing guidelines are now advisory

In People v. Lockridge, No. 149073, the Michigan Supreme Court declared the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines unconstitutional as they are currently used. The Court held that, based on decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000) and Alleyne v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013), it violates the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial to base a minimum sentence guidelines calculation on facts not admitted by a defendant or found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The court held that, for the application of the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines to be constitutional, (1) MCL 769.34(2) must be severed to the extent that it imposes a mandatory minimum sentence based on facts not admitted by the defendant or found by a jury; (2) the requirement under MCL 769.34(3) that sentencing judges articulate substantial and compelling reasons for departing from the guidelines range must be struck down; (3) the sentencing guidelines must be advisory only. The court held that trial courts, however, must still calculate and consider the guidelines range for each defendant as part of its sentencing decision.

The defendant was charged with first-degree murder, but the jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter. The trial judge departed from the defendant’s guidelines sentence of 43 to 86 months, instead sentencing him to 8 months to 15 years. She concluded that the sentencing guidelines did not account for the exceptionally violent nature of the crime, given that the defendant had strangled his wife in front of their three children while he was in the home in violation of the terms of his probation. The Court of Appeals affirmed the sentence, and the Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to appeal.

The defendant argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 US 466 (2000) and People v. Alleyne, 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013) required resentencing. In Apprendi, the U.S. Supreme Court held that any fact that increases the penalty for a crime above the applicable statutory maximum must be submitted to the jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In Alleyne, the U.S. Supreme Court extended the Apprendi rule and held that any fact that increases the maximum or minimum sentencing range must be admitted by the defendant or submitted to the jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Michigan Supreme Court held that since the guidelines require a judge to find facts not admitted by the defendant or found by a jury to score the offense variable of the guidelines, the application of the guidelines violates the Sixth Amendment. The system is unconstitutional because it constrains the discretion of the court by compelling it to increase the mandatory minimum sentence beyond that authorized by the jury’s verdict alone.

The court also outlined the procedure to be followed for cases held in abeyance for the Lockridge decision. If the minimum guidelines sentence calculation was based on a fact admitted by the defendant or found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant will not be entitled to resentencing because the defendant did not suffer prejudice. If the minimum guidelines sentence calculation was based on facts not admitted by the defendant or found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and also not subject to an upward departure that would make the minimum guidelines range irrelevant, the defendant is entitled to a remand in order to determine whether a sentence imposed under the new rules would be materially different, in accordance with the procedure set forth in United States v. Crosby, 397 F.3d 103(2d Cir. 2005). If the trial court finds that the sentence would be materially different under the new rules, it must remand for resentencing. The court determined that the defendant was not actually entitled to resentencing because, since he was sentenced above the applicable guidelines range, a change in the minimum guidelines sentence would not affect his sentence.

Justices Markman and Zahra dissented, reasoning that Michigan’s sentencing system does not violate the Sixth Amendment because it is indeterminate. When the jury convicts the defendant of the crime of conviction, the defendant is subject to the statutory maximum sentence for that crime and has no legal right to a shorter sentence under the law. The minimum sentence under the guidelines merely reflects the defendant’s earliest parole eligibility date, not a sentence to which the defendant is legally guaranteed. Further, the dissenting justices reasoned that the minimum sentence under the guidelines is not a true mandatory minimum sentence, only the earliest time at which the defendant may be eligible for parole.

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