In People v. Bergman, No. 320975, the Court of Appeals held that defendant was not entitled to an Old Chief stipulation that her license was suspended at the time of the fatal car accident. The stipulation that defendant merely had a suspended license was not a sufficient substitute for the malice element of second-degree murder, for which the prosecution sought to introduce evidence of defendant’s prior driving history. The Court further held that the advisory Michigan sentencing guidelines do not violate the Sixth Amendment, as long as the minimum number of points for that offense variable level could be sustained based on facts found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
The defendant’s conviction arose from a two-vehicle collision in which his pickup truck crossed the center line and collided with another vehicle. The driver and passenger of the other vehicle were both killed. A toxicology report indicated that while the defendant’s blood alcohol concentration was below the legal limit, she tested positive for other drugs, including various central nervous system depressants and amphetamine. An expert in forensic toxicology opined that these drugs, taken together, affected the defendant’s ability to operate a motor vehicle. At trial, the prosecution presented evidence of seven prior incidents in which defendant was in or operating her vehicle while impaired or under the influence of prescription substances; the defendant moved to exclude evidence of her prior acts. Furthermore, at sentencing, the defendant objected to the scoring of points for various offense variables, which, the defendant argued, increased the floor of the sentencing guidelines minimum sentence range in violation of her Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.
In affirming the trial court’s decision, the Court of Appeals rejected defendant’s assertion that Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172 (1997) allows her to stipulate that her license was suspended in lieu of introducing evidence of her prior acts. The court found that the defendant’s offer to stipulate that she had a suspended license would not have been conclusive of or a sufficient substitute for the malice element of second-degree murder for which the evidence of her prior acts was offered. Furthermore, the court found that Michigan’s sentencing guidelines do not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial because the guidelines are advisory only, and as long as the minimum number of points for that offense variable level could be sustained based on facts found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, then the defendant could not establish prejudice from any error.