Legislators Unveil Bipartisan Sentencing Guidelines Reform Package

Thursday, June 25, 2020
State Legislators speaking at a press conference unveiling their package to reform sentencing guidelines on Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lansing, Mich., June 25, 2020 — State Reps. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids), Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods), Donna Lasinksi (D-Scio Township), Mike Mueller (R-Linden), Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet) and others, held a press conference today to unveil a 15-bill bipartisan legislative package to reform Michigan’s sentencing guidelines. The legislation would make much-needed reforms to ensure that mitigating factors – including evidence of treatment, restitution, cooperation with law enforcement, acceptance of responsibility, and a minor role in the offense – are considered and can be applied during sentencing.

“For decades, we have been using an antiquated system that doesn’t look at the whole person when we sentence them,” LaGrand said. “The result is a pattern of rulings that show a grave lack of humanity, mercy and justice. We cannot continue to treat our fellow citizens with such disregard for who they really are – we are all more than the sum of our failures and mistakes.”

The average length of stay in Michigan’s prison system is 4.5 years – the highest reported by any state – and significantly higher than the national average of 2.6 years. As a result, the average length of incarceration in Michigan is among the longest in the country for violent, property and drug crimes.

“These reforms are about equity, plain and simple,” said Yancey. “We can’t keep locking people up whom we view as a problem and just throwing away the key. If we truly want rehabilitation, then we have to be fair and equitable at every stage of the judicial process, including sentencing.”

Without these critical reforms, Michigan Sentencing Guidelines will remain a one way ratchet that punishes defendants for the circumstances of their crimes but considers mitigating circumstances to be irrelevant. This broad, bipartisan coalition of legislators aims to change that.

“I am proud to have worked on this bipartisan package that addresses the shortcomings of our criminal justice system,” said Mueller “Not only will this plan create more reasonable paths to rehabilitation, but will also allow victims to have a voice in the process.”

Under the package, judges may adjust the points used in the sentencing guidelines based on the following criteria:

  • Victim-Offender Mediation and Restorative Justice: If the defendant actively participated in a prosecutor-approved victim-offender mediation process. (LaGrand)
  • Past or Current Civic Engagement: If the defendant is an active duty member or honorably discharged veteran of the US military or served in either the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. (Cynthia Neeley, D-Flint)
  • Mental Health Treatment: If the defendant has actively sought and is receiving mental health treatment. (Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Twp.)
  • Substance Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation: If the defendant has sought and is actively receiving substance use disorder treatment. (Wendzel)
  • Diminished Capacity and Cognitive Impairment: If it is determined by a medical professional that the defendant has diminished mental capacity. (Julie Calley, R-Portland)
  • Cooperation with Law Enforcement: If the defendant gave substantial assistance or cooperation to law enforcement authorities. (Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit)
  • Acceptance of Responsibility: If the defendant pleaded guilty before trial or apologized to the victim. (Yancey)
  • Employment or Seeking Employment: If the defendant’s work history indicates they have been a substantial contributor to their community or if the defendant is seeking employment. (Lasinski)
  • Minor Role in the Offense: If the defendant took no affirmative action in facilitating the offense and if the defendant did not plan or initiate the offense in a multi-defendant case. (Brenda Carter, D-Pontiac)
  • Restitution to the Victim(s): If the defendant is making substantial effort to provide restitution to the victim(s). (Mueller)
  • Victim Input: If the victim believes the punishment is insufficient or excessive. (Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian)
  • Age and Youth): If the offender is under a certain age and is being tried as an adult. (Vanessa Guerra, D-Saginaw)
  • Third-Party Coercion and Inducement: If there is substantial evidence, the defendant was coerced or induced by a third-party to engage in criminal activity. (Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia)
  • Disengagement from the Crime: If after beginning a crime, the defendant makes an effort to disengage themselves from a crime and warn others.  (Padma Kuppa, D-Troy)
  • Testimony at Trial:  With the prosecutor’s approval, the defendant may receive sentencing credit for testifying against a codefendant at trial. (Angela Witwer, Delta Twp.)