Michigan Sentencing Guidelines


Although Michigan has adopted sentencing guidelines, judges have discretionary authority to depart from Michigan's sentencing guideline range— but only where there are "substantial and compelling" reasons to do so. If you received an unfair sentence, or were sentenced more harshly than is permitted by law, you may have the right to appeal your sentence. It is important that you contact our Michigan sentence appeals lawyers as soon as possible because you have a very limited time frame in which you can appeal a sentence.

A History of Excessively Harsh Sentencing Practices in Michigan

Historically, the Michigan trial bench held the power to determine sentences in criminal cases. This meant that defendants were subject to the whims and discretion of individual courts and, as a result, were exposed to harsh penalties even when those penalties were not in proportion to the offenses committed.

Widespread, unfair sentencing practices continued to be an issue until 1983 when the judicial system began to implement changes. The Michigan Supreme Court (People v Coles) affirmed that it had the "power to review sentences imposed by trial courts for an abuse of sentencing discretion that 'shocked the conscience' of the appellate courts."(5)

The Supreme Court decision did not resolve the issues of unfair sentences being imposed on some defendants: "In 1990, having determined that the "shocks the conscience" standard had proved insufficient for meaningful appellate review of sentencing, the court held in People v Milbourn that sentencing discretion would henceforth be reviewed to determine whether a sentence was proportionate to the offense and the offender."

In 1984, the first sentencing guidelines were adopted by the courts, and were later edited in 1988. But judges were still allowed to depart from these guidelines, and unfair sentencing practices continued. In 1994 a sentencing commission was established to recommend sentencing guidelines, but that committee has not met since 1997. In fact, the terms of all original 19 members of the committee have since expired but each year sentencing guidelines are republished reflecting changes in the law and in guidelines.

Although there are written guidelines judges are required to apply when determining a sentence, there is still room for considerable judicial discretion.

Who is Currently Protecting Defendant’s Rights?

The Important Role of the Appellate Lawyer

For the most part, the burden of ensuring defendant's rights, including receiving fair sentences, falls on the shoulders of defense attorneys. In particular, appellate lawyers, who are the specialty legal practitioners that file appeals and handle post-conviction motions when a defendant did not receive proper consideration or an illegal verdict or sentence.

An article appearing on the State Bar of Michigan website, states key points to consider regarding the inexact nature of sentencing guidelines:

“...The other impediment arises from the nature of sentencing guidelines themselves—sentencing guidelines tend to eliminate disparity in sentencing, as well as to institutionalize some disparity in sentencing. Determining the appropriate sentence to meet sentencing goals is not a science, nor is it purely objective. Sentencing guidelines cannot be custom fit to all of the particular circumstances of an offense, nor to measure all aspects of the defendant’s culpability. The aider and abettor may be held accountable for unintended acts of the perpetrator; the prescribed punishment may be the same whether the offender is age 12 or age 38; and a numerical score cannot capture the heart of the offender: whether it be misguided, abused, or malevolent.”(5)

East Lansing, Michigan, Excessive Sentence Appeals Attorneys

Serving All of Michigan Including Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo

If you received an unfair sentence, you can count on the criminal defense attorneys at Grabel & Associates to help. Our lawyers understand the sentencing guidelines judges are supposed adhere to, and if your sentence was excessive, we may be able to help you get your sentence reduced with our comprehensive post-conviction legal services.

Contact our sentence appeals law firm today, or call 1-800-342-7896 for a free initial consultation.

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