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February 6, 2022

Sentencing court's "abandonment of impartiality and unwillingness to follow the law" prompts reversal and rebuke

As noted in this Newsweek piece, headlined "Court Says Judge Overstepped with Ruling, May Be In 'Wrong Line of Work'," a sentencing reversal in Michigan last week is making national headlines because of some of the strong words in the ruling of a unanimous court of appeals.  Here are some highlights from the press report:

A Michigan judge known for giving criminals higher sentences than what guidelines recommend and making controversial comments from the bench was told by a higher court Tuesday that remaining a judge may not be the job for him.

Jackson County Judge John McBain was reprimanded by the Michigan Court of Appeals' ruling on the case of Dawn Marie Dixon-Bey, a 49-year-old woman convicted of fatally stabbing her boyfriend on Valentine's Day in 2015. Dixon-Bey said she acted in self-defense.

"If a trial judge is unable to follow the law as determined by a higher appellate court, the trial judge is in the wrong line of work," the appeals court said in its opinion, which followed a previous reprimand for how McBain handled the case....

The case began in 2017 when McBain sentenced Dixon-Bey to serve a minimum of 35 years in prison, 15 years over the recommended guidelines, for the second-degree murder of her boyfriend Greg Stack. During the sentencing hearing, McBain made comments to Dixon-Bey such as "I hope you are haunted by the vision of you stabbing him. After this day, you don't exist," and that the one major flaw Stack had was "that he stayed in a relationship with you," Michigan Live reported.

In 2020, the appeals court derided McBain for the sentence he gave Dixon-Bey and said he treated the defendant as if she was convicted of premeditated murder and "grilled her" in court. At the time, the judges' panel overturned the initial ruling, but McBain ignored it and gave Dixon-Bey a 30-year sentence.

McBain argued at the hearing Dixon-Bey had planned the killing saying "she stabbed the victim in the heart not once, but twice, and murdered him in cold blood," according to Associated Press. He also said he could consider the evidence presented in the case as premeditation, despite the defendant not being convicted of that crime.

With the second sentencing sent back to the Court of Appeals, the panel unanimously overturned McBain's ruling and ordered he be removed from any future hearings related to the case. The judges said McBain's decision to hand out a high sentence based on finding Dixon-Bey's crime as premeditated and deliberated, contrary to the jury's verdict, "was an abuse of discretion and a willful violation of controlling precedent from our Supreme Court," their opinion said.

A helpful reader provided me with copy of the full ruling in Michigan v. Dixon-Bey, No. 354866 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 1, 2022) (available for download below). Sentencing fans should take the time to read the entire opinion, which addresses sentencing topics ranging from the consideration of acquitted conduct to the right of allocution. And, among other notable statements, the opinion concludes with the appeals court stating that the "trial court’s conduct and statements may warrant investigation by the Judicial Tenure Commission."

Download Dawn Marie Dixon-Bey Michigan Court of Appeals

February 6, 2022 at 06:56 PM | Permalink


Although misguided about the law of acquitted conduct, this Judge has been elected and re-elected by his voters 4 times (terms are for 6 years), most recently in 2020.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Feb 6, 2022 10:32:46 PM

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