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BlogsPublications | November 17, 2016
2 minute read

Sixth Amendment is not violated where court relies on judicial fact-finding to impose consecutive sentencing, says COA

The Sixth Amendment, in conjunction with the Due Process Clause, requires that each element of a crime be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, but that requirement does not apply to the consecutive sentencing statute, according to People v Deleon, No. 329031.  MCL 750.520b(3) allows a term of imprisonment imposed for first-degree criminal sexual conduct to be “served consecutively to any term of imprisonment imposed for any other criminal offense arising from the same transaction.”  In Deleon, the trial judge found that the defendant’s criminal sexual conduct convictions (CSC I and CSC II) both arose from the same transaction and therefore imposed consecutive sentencing.  The court of appeals held that this did not violate the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

After defendant’s convictions, the trial court determined that defendant was a third habitual offender and sentenced him to a 35- to 70-year prison term for the CSC I conviction, consecutive to a 20- to 30-year term for the CSC II conviction. On appeal, defendant argued that the consecutive sentences violated his Sixth Amendment rights pursuant to the Michigan Supreme Court’s opinion in People v Lockridge, which held that Michigan’s sentencing guidelines scheme violated the Sixth Amendment because it compelled the use of judge-found facts to increase the mandatory minimum punishment a defendant receives. The crux of defendant’s argument was that consecutive sentencing increased the length of his maximum sentence based on a judicial finding.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the consecutive sentencing. It observed that in Oregon v Ice, 555 U.S. 160 (2009), the United States Supreme Court held that twin considerations—historical practice and respect for state sovereignty—indicated the choice of consecutive sentencing was not within the scope of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.  First, judges had historically decided such sentencing matters when the Sixth Amendment was ratified; it was a decision in which the jury played no role at the time.  Second, the states’ traditionally exercised authority over their criminal justice system, and the Sixth Amendment did not call for a restraint on this traditional power.

The Court of Appeals then determined that the rationale in Ice should apply to Michigan’s consecutive sentencing statute. Although consecutive sentencing lengthens the total period of imprisonment, it does not increase the penalty for any specific offense.  So while Lockridge prohibits a trial court from using judge-found facts to increase a mandatory minimum sentence for an offense, no such increases occurred in defendant’s case. Therefore, the trial court’s sentence did not run afoul of Lockridge.