Sentencing Guidelines in Michigan

court where sentencing happens in michigan

What Happens When You Get Charged with a Felony 

If you have been charged with a felony in Michigan, you will hear your attorney talk about Sentencing Guidelines. Sentencing Guidelines refers to the number that the Judge, prosecutor, probation officer, and even your attorney, uses in describing the range of months that a judge must sentence you to for the minimum portion of your sentence. The maximum portion is set by the statute and your attorney cannot change what the maximum portion of the offense is, as that is set by law or statute. The maximum amount of the sentence is controlled by statute, but a defendant is also at the mercy of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and the parole board. However, the vast majority of inmates are paroled as soon as they are eligible, therefore it is extremely important to work hard to obtain the minimum number of the sentencing guidelines range.

This is where your attorney comes in. Your attorney will be able to argue your sentencing guidelines range or potentially make an agreement with the Judge or Prosecutor as to a minimum guideline range to earn you the lowest amount of time possible. This is why its important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney. At Tanis Schultz, PLLC our Grand Rapids defense lawyers are here to help. Give us a call today for a free consultation. 

For example, say an individual’s sentencing guidelines are 51-80 months and the maximum penalty for the felony convicted is 10 years, the maximum sentence is 10 years and the minimum sentence will be between 51 and 80 months. The Judge has the ultimate discretion and decision to sentence the defendant to some minimum term between 51 and 80 months before the defendant is eligible for parole. You may hear the judge say at sentencing that they sentence the defendant to “60 months to 10 years.” That means that at the 60 months point, the defendant becomes eligible for parole. That is why it is important for your attorney to try and obtain the lowest sentencing guideline as possible – so a defendant is eligible for parole as soon as possible.

Often, people think when their criminal defense attorney, prosecutor, or judge says their guidelines are 19 – 38 months on a 10 year felony charge, that 38 months is the maximum they will do. That is not correct. The 38 months is the maximum for the minimum portion of the sentence. The judge could set the minimum as low as 19 months or as high as 38 months, but the minimum will be a set number within that range.

Additionally, some crimes have mandatory minimum terms and some require life imprisonment. For example, a Criminal Sexual Conduct in the First Degree or a CSC 1st – requires a mandatory minimum of 25 years imprisonment. Further, there is another category that could set the penalty at “life of any term of years.” In those situations, the Judge is responsible for setting the maximum wherever they feel is fit – which, depending on your judge – can be a very scary, open ended proposition.

Michigan Sentencing Guidelines Explained

The Michigan Sentencing Guidelines are required to be used by judges when they sentence a defendant for any felony conviction that was committed after 1//1/1999. The guidelines do not apply to criminal convictions which mandate a sentence of life in prison or felony charges that requires a mandatory two-year sentence like felony firearm. The purpose of sentencing guidelines in Michigan is to provide as much of a fair and consistent process when judges sentence a person convicted of a crime.

In order to determine what a defendant’s guidelines are, you first need to determine the seriousness of the crime. Crimes are broken out into “Classes” based on their maximum penalty. The Classes range from Class A to Class H. Class A offenses are those offenses with a maximum penalty of up to life in prison. Class B offenses are offenses with a maximum penalty of up to 20 years. Class C offenses are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Class D offenses are punishable by imprisonment up to 10 years. Class E offenses are punishable by up to 5 years. Class F offenses are punishable by up to 4 years. Class G offenses are punishable by up to 2 years. Class H offenses are jailtime (potentially not prison) or an intermediate sanction.

So, you may be wondering, how can your criminal defense attorney use the sentencing guidelines to help you and your case? During negations with a prosecutor, your criminal defense attorney can try to have the crime classification lowered as part of a plea deal. The lower the classification, the less incarceration a convicted person will face. Different “variables” need to be scored in order to determine what the guidelines will be. Two variables are taken into consideration, are your prior record variables and offense variables. The prior record variables take the defendant’s prior criminal record into consideration. For each prior conviction of a misdemeanor or felony and even juvenile adjudications, certain points are given. The offense variables are scored based on what occurred during the crime. An example of an offense variable is was psychological injury suffered by the victim, was the victim injured, or the type of drug involved. Each one of these variables carries different points. Your attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor or even argue at sentencing, that those points should be minimized – the lower the points – the lower your guidelines!

Upward or Downward Departure from the Sentencing Guidelines.

A judge is not allowed to depart from the ranges issued unless there is a substantial and compelling reason to do so. If the judge decides they are going to issue an upward or a downward departure, they are required to state on the record at sentencing their reasons for doing so.

If you have been charged with a felony, contact our office today to discuss your options and receive a free consultation from our Grand Rapids attorneys. 

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