Michigan Court of Appeals Vacates CSC 1 Sentence for Error Regarding 25 Year Mandatory Minimum Sentence Under MCL 750.520b

On April 8th, 2014, the Michigan Court of Appeals vacated a defendant's CSC-1 sentence due to the Van Buren Circuit Court's error in departing upward from defendant's 25 year mandatory minimum sentence under MCL 750.520b and remanded the case for resentencing in the Circuit Court.

In People v. Payne, Docket No. 314816, the Michigan Court of Appeals found that the Van Buren Circuit Court committed error when it departed upward from the 25 year mandatory minimum sentence and sentenced defendant to 30 years in prison without giving substantial or compelling reasons as required by law.

MCL 750.520b(2)(b), a portion of the CSC-1 statute, states that "when a defendant who is 17 years of age or older is convicted of CSC-1 against a victim who is less than 13 years of age, the defendant shall be punished by imprisonment for life or any term of years, but not less than 25 years.”

On appeal the prosecution argued that "the statutory provision establishes a mandatory minimum sentence of [']not less than 25 years['] and that the circuit court was consequently entitled to set defendant’s minimum sentence at 30 years without articulating any substantial and compelling reasons." Defendant contended that "this provision establishes a flat 25-year mandatory minimum sentence and that the circuit court was therefore required to articulate substantial and compelling reasons to justify its upward departure in this case."

The Court of Appeals agreed with defendant, stating that "[u]nder the reasoning of Wilcox, it is clear that the [']mandatory minimum['] sentence in MCL 750.520b(2)(b) is a flat 25-year term for purposes of MCL 769.34(2)(a), and that any upward departure from this 25-year mandatory minimum must be supported by substantial and compelling reasons. See Wilcox, 486 Mich at 62; see also MCL 769.34(3)."

The Court further considered that "[b]ecause the upper limit of defendant’s minimum guidelines range (135 months) was less than the 25-year statutory minimum, the circuit court had two options. First, the court could have imposed a flat 25-year minimum without articulating any substantial and compelling reasons. MCL 769.34(2)(a); Wilcox, 486 Mich at 70. Alternatively, the court could have imposed a minimum sentence of greater than 25 years if supported by sufficient substantial and compelling reasons. Id. But the court chose neither of these two options. Instead, it imposed a minimum sentence of 30 years without articulating any reasons whatsoever for its upward departure. This was error."

Defendant also argued on appeal that, because he was 17 and a half years old at the time of the offense, the mandatory minimum 25 year sentence was cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment and violated the United States Supreme Court's recent decision regarding juvenile sentencing in Miller v. Alabama.  The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, stating that

[w]e cannot conclude that the 25-year mandatory minimum prescribed by MCL 750.520b(2)(b) is cruel or unusual when applied to a juvenile offender such as defendant. Although a minimum sentence of 25 years is unquestionably substantial, it is simply not comparable to the sentences of death and life without parole found unconstitutional when applied to juveniles in Miller, Graham, and Roper. Sentences of death and life without parole are the harshest criminal penalties in American law. See Miller, 132 S Ct at 2466, 2468. Such penalties violate the Eighth Amendment when applied to juvenile offenders because, by their very nature, they preclude any meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity or rehabilitation. See id. at 2466-2469.