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A Better Partnership
October 28, 2015

COA articulates standard for “reasonableness” of a departure from the sentencing guidelines in post-Lockridge world

For the first time since People v. Lockridge, the Michigan Court of Appeals has articulated a standard for analyzing the reasonableness of a sentence when it departs from the defendant’s advisory sentencing guideline range.  In People v. Steanhouse, No. 318329, the Court held that trial courts should employ the “principle of proportionality” test articulated in People v. Milbourn.  Under this test, sentences must be proportionate to the seriousness of the circumstances surrounding the offense and the offender.  If the sentence fulfills this principle of proportionality, it is reasonable.  In Milbourn, the Michigan Supreme Court recognized that departures from the guidelines are appropriate where the guidelines do not adequately account for important factors legitimately considered at sentencing.  The Court further stated that even where some departure appears to be appropriate, the extent of the departure (rather than the fact of the departure itself) may embody a violation of the principle of proportionality.  In deciding on the “principle of proportionality” test, the Court of Appeals rejected the abuse of discretion standard of review used by federal courts, because, unlike the federal system, Michigan courts are not procedurally bound to apply the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors.   Defendant’s case was remanded in order for the trial court to determine whether defendant’s 30 to 60 year sentence was reasonable under the “principle of proportionality” test.

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