For all felony and high court misdemeanors in State of Michigan court proceedings, the Judge is required to consider the applicable sentence guidelines. Sentence guidelines are a formula that takes into consideration the Defendant’s prior record (Prior Record Variables), and characteristics of the conviction offense (Offense Variables). Where the Prior Record Variables and Offense Variables intersect on a sentencing grid determines the recommended sentence guideline range.
An often asked question is whether or not the Judge is obligated to stay within the guideline range?. The Michigan Supreme Court, in the case of People v Lockridge, 498 Mich 358 (2105), determined that deviations from the sentencing guidelines must be based upon reasonableness. This changed the previously used judicial standard of substantial and compelling reasons to sentence outside of sentencing guidelines. The standard under Lockridge gives the Judge much more discretion concerning the sentence he or she wants to impose. The deviation from sentence guidelines basically needs to be both reasonable and proportionate for a Michigan appellate court to uphold the sentence outside of the guidelines that is imposed. There are other limitations that a Court may have when it comes to sentencing, including: 1) the minimum sentence imposed cannot exceed 2/3rds of the maximum sentence; 2) if the Defendant has a Cobbs agreement (and has not violated any conditions set forth by the Court relative to the Cobbs agreement), the Court must give the Defendant the ability to withdraw his or her plea if the sentence the Judge wants to impose exceeds the Cobbs agreement; 3) sometimes the Defendant and Prosecution enter into a Killebrew agreement, which is essentially a sentence bargain. Generally, if the Court is not willing to honor the terms of the Killebrew agreement the Defendant has the ability to withdraw his or her plea and go to trial.
So getting back to the question at hand, what does it mean that the deviation must be reasonable and proportionate? Basically, the Court is obligated to provide adequate reasons for the extent of the deviation from the guidelines. The Judge is allowed to depart from the sentence guideline range when the guideline range is disproportionate to the seriousness of the crime. In this determination the Judge must take into account the nature of the conviction offense or offenses and the background of the Defendant, and the applicable sentence guideline range. There are several factors related to this assessment, including: 1) the seriousness of the conviction offense or offenses; 2) factors that were inadequately considered by the sentence guidelines, such as [but not limited to] the relationship between the Defendant and the victim, any misconduct by the Defendant while in custody, the Defendant’s remorse, and the Defendant’s potential for rehabilitation (see People v. Steanhouse, 313 Mich App 1 (2015)). The Judge is also allowed to consider protection of society as a reason to go higher than the recommended guideline range (see People v. Armstrong, 247 Mich App 423 (2001). The Judge should consider the guideline range when justifying the proportionality of a deviation from it.