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Blogs | November 25, 2015
2 minute read

Steanhouse revisited: COA panel disagrees with “principle of proportionality” test.

The Michigan Court of Appeals, in the consolidated opinions of People v. Masroor, Nos. 322280; 322281; 322282, has brought into question its recent decision in People v. Steanhouse (Docket No. 318329, issued October 22, 2015).  In Steanhouse, which we blogged about here, the Court of Appeals held that trial courts should employ a “principle of proportionality” test when departing from an advisory sentencing guideline range.  This test requires that sentences be proportionate to the seriousness of the circumstances surrounding the offense and the offender.  Nonetheless, the Michigan Court of Appeals stated here that it disagrees with the analysis set forth in Steanhouse, and if it were not bound by that decision, it would affirm the defendant’s sentence by applying the federal “reasonableness” standard.

Masroor was convicted of 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct against his young nieces.  He was sentenced to a minimum term of 35 to 50 years imprisonment, which exceeded the maximum calculated under the guidelines by 20 years, or 133%.  Since Steanhouse had not been decided at the time of Masroor’s sentencing, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing.  However, the Court of Appeals indicated that the proportionality review dictated by Steanhouse is at odds with the review applied to departure sentences by the federal courts for several reasons.  Among these reasons is that, unlike Michigan’s sentencing procedure, federal law requires district courts to consider all of the sentencing policy factors set forth in 18 USC 3553(a) in addition to the guidelines for departure.  These factors include: (1) the nature and circumstances of the offense and the personal history and characteristics of the offender; (2) the need to deter criminal conduct and to protect the public; (3) the need to provide the defendant with educational or vocational training or other forms of treatment; (4) the alternative types of sentences available; and (5) the need to avoid unwarranted disparity among defendants with similar criminal records who have been convicted of similar crimes.  The Court of Appeals opined that mandatory application of the § 3553(a) factors sets federal sentencing apart from Michigan’s sentencing process.  In the Court’s view, the “principle of proportionality” test is but one concept that should figure into departure sentencing; the touchstone of the departure analysis should be one of reasonableness.