Thursday, August 6, 2015

Michigan Supreme Court says judges don't have to follow sentencing guidelines

Who should decide how a defendant is sentenced? A jury or a judge?

This was the question before the Michigan Supreme Court in Lockridge.

This case involved a defendant who had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Oakland County.  The mandatory sentencing guidelines scoring called for a minimal sentence of 43 to 86 months.

However, the sentencing judge found that the minimum sentence should be increased because there were factors not accounted for in the scoring of the guidelines.  These included a probation violation, the defendant killing his wife in front of their three children, leaving the children at home with their mother dead on the floor, and prior domestic violence.

Article here.

Eventually, this case was heard by the Michigan Supreme Court, based on the use of the sentencing guidelines. Sentencing guidelines outline what the penalties for a particular crime should be (say, forgery, which is a felony of one year to up to 14 years), and whether the minimum sentence should be enhanced or increased based on other factors.

In an opinion released July 29, 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court held that in view of existing United States Supreme Court precedent, Michigan’s sentencing guidelines were unconstitutional to the extent that they require judicial fact finding beyond facts admitted by the defendant or found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt to score offense variables that increase the minimum sentence range.

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