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August 21, 2015

Split Michigan appeals court finds juve has Sixth Amendment right to jury findings for LWOP sentence

Thanks to a few helpful readers, I learned about a very interesting split panel ruling today from the Michigan Court of Appeals in Michigan v. Skinner, No. 317892 (Mich. Ct. App. Aug. 21, 2015). Here is how this majority opinion starts in Skinner:

This case presents a constitutional issue of first impression as to whether the Sixth Amendment mandates that a jury make the findings set forth by Miller v Alabama, 576 US ___; 132 S Ct 2455; 183 L Ed 2d 407 (2012) as codified in MCL 769.25(6), before sentencing a juvenile homicide offender to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  We find that the Sixth Amendment mandates that juveniles convicted of homicide who face the possibility of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole have a right to have their sentence determined by a jury.  In so finding, we expressly reserve the issue of whether this defendant should receive the penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole for a jury.  In this case, defendant requested and was denied her right to have a jury decide her sentence.  Accordingly, we vacate her sentence for first-degree murder and remand for resentencing on that offense consistent with this opinion.

Here is how this dissenting opinion in Skinner gets started:

I respectfully dissent. While the majority sets forth a strong argument, it ultimately fails because it is based upon a false premise: that Apprendi and its progeny requires that all facts relating to a sentence must be found by a jury.  Rather, the principle set forth in those cases establishes only that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires the jury to find those facts necessary to impose a sentence greater than that authorized by the legislature in the statute itself based upon the conviction itself.  And the statute adopted by the Michigan Legislature with respect to juvenile lifers does not fit within that category.

I am going to need some time to read these opinions closely before I weigh in, but I would guess that the Michigan Supreme Court (and maybe even the US Supreme Court) will have its say before long on this matter.

August 21, 2015 at 12:51 PM | Permalink


No. You have the right as a defendant to have the jury determine how long you will be in prison. Not some dork judge.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Aug 21, 2015 2:51:15 PM

There are (at least) two different ways to see Miller's discussion of the factors to consider before sentencing juvenile offenders to lwop.

Option 1 -- The Supreme Court merely listed the type of factors that judges normally consider in sentencing any offender when a court has sentencing discretion. None of these factors change the range of punishment, thus no need for jury fact-finding.

Option 2 -- The Supreme Court established additional facts that needed to be found before a juvenile is eligible for LWOP. As such, a jury must find these facts as they increase the range of punishment.

My personal reading of Miller is that the factors listed are sufficiently fuzzy that they seem more like judicial discretion than facts to be found by the jury. Whether that's what the justices meant in Miller is anybody's guess.

Posted by: tmm | Aug 21, 2015 2:54:34 PM

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