What Is Criminal Sentencing in Michigan

Criminal sentencing in Michigan is when the judge renders a sentence upon a criminal law defendant after a verdict or a guilty plea. The criminal sentencing hearing, or just sentencing hearing, typically occurs a few weeks after a trial or plea hearing. Depending on the crime, a lot of work must be completed before sentencing.

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What happens between a conviction and sentencing?

A conviction occurs when a defendant admits to the crime during a plea hearing. Notice I didn’t say the defendant entered a guilty plea. The court must hear facts that establish that the defendant perpetrated the crime. It is not enough for a defendant to just say, “I plead guilty.” The defendant must give testimony that establishes the elements of the crime. For example, in every plea hearing for DUI, the defendant must admit that he/she consumed alcohol before driving. A conviction may occur following a trial in court. At the end of every trial, the fact finder, either a judge or a jury, must decide whether the defendant committed a crime. If the fact finder renders a guilty verdict, then the defendant is convicted of the crime.

After a conviction, a lot of work must be completed. In Michigan, if the crime is a felony, a parole officer must complete a presentence report for the circuit court judge. Criminal sentencing for a felony conviction is very complicated. Michigan has sentencing guidelines that must be worked through before sentencing. This process takes time. Once the report is completed, the report must be shared with the defendant and his/her defense attorney. The defense attorney must review the presentence report and determine if there are any errors. The errors claimed by the defense attorney will be argued at the sentencing hearing for the defendant.

There are no formal sentencing guidelines for misdemeanor convictions in Michigan. When I started practicing law, criminal sentencing for a misdemeanor was like the Wild West, one wrong move and the defendant could be hammered by the judge. Today, a sentencing judge in District Court does have some limited guidelines to follow. Not every misdemeanor conviction requires a presentence report in District Court. Court resources are stretched thin today, a judge may not order a presentence report before a misdemeanor sentencing hearing. If a presentence report is ordered, the defendant will meet with a county probation officer. The probation officer will make sentencing recommendations to the judge. The judge may or may not follow the recommendations. A good criminal defense attorney can convince the judge to adopt a sentence that is more favorable for a defendant.

What is allocution at criminal sentencing?

The “right of allocution” is the ability to speak to the sentencing judge before a criminal sentence is rendered by a judge. The judge will look at the defendant and say, “Is there anything you would like to say to me before I render your sentence?” Sometimes a judge will become so angry with a defendant that the judge cuts off or skips allocution altogether. This is a reversible error in Michigan. People v Bailey, 330 Mich App 41, 944 NW2d 370 (2019). A good criminal defense attorney will help a defendant find his words. Allocution is very important for a misdemeanor sentencing hearing. Recall in Michigan, there are no formal sentencing guidelines that a judge must follow. During allocution, the defendant or his/her defense attorney should humanize the defendant, demonstrate the defendant is ready to make changes, demonstrate the undesirable impacts upon the defendant’s family due to incarceration, and demonstrate the defendant deserves leniency because the defendant will do well on probation. How exactly this is done is different for each case. Criminal sentencing requires preparation by the defense attorney and the defendant.

Criminal Defense Attorney for Traverse City

I practice criminal law in Northern Michigan. I can help people navigate the criminal sentence process in Traverse City.

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