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Court of Appeals Rules Michigan Sentencing Guidelines Advisory in Every Case

Dan Williams, Esq.

The Michigan Court of Appeals, in People v Rice, held that the Michigan Supreme Court's opinion in People v. Lockridge, applies to all cases. Lockridge struck down the requirement that Michigan's Sentencing Guidelines' Scheme was mandatory, and that any sentence that departed from the Sentencing Guidelines had be based on "substantial and compelling reasons."

The Rice Court summarized the Lockridge case as follows: "Addressing the entire scheme and system of MCL 769.34, the Lockridge Court held that the guidelines were advisory and struck down MCL 769.34(3)'s requirement that a trial court need not articulate substantial and compelling reasons to depart from the guidelines."

The Rice Court goes on to explain the scope of the Court's Lockridge opinion as follows: "It is clear from this language that the Court drew no distinction between when a specific case actually applied judge-found facts and when a case did not. The Court's language was precise and explicit and it in no way limited its holding to cases in which judicial fact-finding actually occurred."

Based on that lack of distinction between cases where judicially "found" facts were used in sentencing, based upon the testimony and evidence presented during the trial, and cases where no such judicial fact-finding with regard to the applicable sentencing guidelines occurred, the Court held that the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines were "advisory in every case, regardless of whether the case actually involves judicial fact finding." As the Rice Court accurately stated, "if the Michigan Supreme Court did not intend such a result, it is up to that Court to clarify its previous opinion."

Criminal defendants are impacted by these decisions. Given the wholly advisory nature of the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines, judicial discretion, to a large extent, has been restored when punishing criminal defendants in applicable high misdemeanor or felony cases. Such discretion can be good or bad, depending on many factors that are both within our control and which are not within our control. However, the advisory system allows for substantially more room for successful advocacy when it comes to criminal sentencing. Based on Rice, attorneys are in new territory, but hopefully, the opinion in Rice begins to provide some clarity on the full impact of Lockridge on the criminal sentencing process in Michigan.

If you are facing criminal charges, you should contact attorney Dan Williams at (248) 380-0000.

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