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A Better Partnership
March 27, 2014

MSC Opinion: Crime Victim Rights Assessment is civil remedy, not criminal punishment

In People v. Earl, the Michigan Supreme Court held that the crime victim’s rights assessment under MCL 780.905(1)(a) is a nonpunitive civil remedy, not a criminal punishment.  Accordingly, imposition of a higher assessment, increased after the offense was committed but before sentencing, was not subject to Ex Post Factor Clause of the United States and Michigan Constitutions.
 
Earl was convicted of bank robbery and two counts of possession of less than 25 grams of a controlled substance.  At the time he committed the offense, MCL 780.905 required sentencing courts to impose a $60 crime victim rights assessment on defendants.  The statute was amended, effective December 2010, to increase this assessment to $130.  Earl’s sentencing hearing was held in February 2011.  At that time, the trial court imposed the $130 assessment.  Earl appealed and argued that imposition of the higher assessment constituted a violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause.  The Court of Appeals affirmed both Earl’s conviction and the trial court’s sentence.
 
The Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to appeal on the issue of whether imposition of the higher crime victim assessment constituted a violation of the federal and state constitutions.  Ultimately, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ ruling.  In doing so, the Court noted that determining whether a statute violates the Ex Post Facto Clauses requires a two-step analysis.  First, the Court must determine whether the Legislature intended the statute as a criminal punishment or civil remedy.  If the statute is a criminal punishment, it violates the Clauses.  If it is a civil remedy, then the Court must determine whether the statutory scheme is so punitive that it negates the Legislature’s intent to deem it a civil remedy. 
 
Here, the Court held that MCL 780.905(1)(a) is a civil remedy.  Moreover, the use of the term “assess” and the fact that the statute imposes a low flat fee on defendants, regardless of the facts or circumstances of the case, indicates that the statute is nonpunitive.  Further, the purpose of the statute is to provide assistance to victims, not to punish offenders.  Under these circumstances, the Court held that application of the increased fee under MCL 780.905(1)(a) did not violate the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the United States or Michigan Constitutions.

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