Michigan Supreme Court Rules Mandatory Sentencing Guidelines Unconstitutional

State Office Building in downtown Lansing, Michigan

Do you know someone who will appeal their sentencing now?

In a 5-2 vote last week, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory guidelines for prison are unconstitutional. Instead, the guidelines should be used as advisory.

The sentencing guidelines are to help determine the amount of time a defendant could serve in prison. You can find the full mandatory sentencing guidelines at, State of Michigan Sentencing Guidelines Manual.

The Detroit Free Press reported that Livingston County Prosecutor William Vaillensourt said that when the sentencing guidelines passed in 1999, they were meant as a safety valve. Vailensourt is reported as saying,

“The justification for sentencing guidelines was to reduce disparities and to give judges concrete and binding rules.”

What The Ruling Means

What this means is that the 586 judges across Michigan will be the ones deciding the minimum amount the prison sentence range instead of using the sentencing guidelines.

This is opening the doors for many prisoners to appeal their sentencing. While prosecutors are angered, Michigan judges everywhere are praising the ruling.

Michigan Live quoted Justice Bridget Mary McCormark in the majority’s opinion,

“A scheme of mandatory minimum sentencing violates the Sixth Amendment if it constrains the discretion of the sentencing court by compelling an increase in the mandatory minimum sentence beyond that authorized by the jury’s verdict alone.”

“Michigan’s sentencing guidelines do so to the extent that the floor of the guidelines range compels a court to impose a mandatory minimum sentence beyond that authorized by the jury’s verdict.”

Where the Ruling Derives From

This ruling derives out of the case involving Rahim Lockridge. Lockridge was charged with first degree murder, strangling his wife, back in 2011. The jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter.

Oakland County Circuit Judge Nanci Grant sentenced Lockridge to 8-15 years in prison. According to the Detroit Free Press, Grant reported going above the sentencing guidelines because to the violence of the crime. The couple’s three children witnessed the incident, and Lockridge had violated court orders by being in the house.

Lockridge appealed his sentence saying that his Sixth Amendment right, the right to trial by jury, had been violated because Grant added 10 months more than the minimum sentencing guidelines required due to evidence that wasn’t brought before the jury.

The Michigan Supreme Court Judge upheld Lockridge’s sentence and ruled that the sentencing guidelines were what the Detroit Free Press reported the Michigan Supreme Court calling, an unconstitutional restraint on judicial discretion.

On The Federal Level

The state will have an example to look up to as they move forward. According to Michigan Live, sentencing guidelines had also been mandatory on the federal level before the U.S Supreme Court ended it.

Summary

Justice Stephen J. Markman was one of the two who voted against the measure. Michigan Live quoted him as saying,

“Not only does this result in a substantial broadening of the power of judges, but it also results in a substantial diminishing of the authority of juries.”

“While the jury will continue to determine what statutory maximum applies, its decision will no longer determine the choice of the earliest parole date applicable to the conviction offense.”

However, State Rep. Kurt Heise says that the mandatory sentencing was not fulfilling what it was meant to do. The Detroit Free Press reported,

“We have more people incarcerated than our neighboring states and it’s costing us $2 billion a year. We have to take a look at criminal justice reform across the spectrum. And this decision bolsters the argument that changes need to be made.”

What Do You Think?

What are your thoughts on this decision? Please let me know in the comment section below.