People v. Coles

Decision Date24 October 1983
Docket NumberDocket Nos. 60641,60893 and 62938,Nos. 11-13,s. 11-13
Citation339 N.W.2d 440,417 Mich. 523
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Bruce L. COLES, Defendant-Appellant. PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Joseph GONZALES, Defendant-Appellant. PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Lonnie James WAITS, Defendant-Appellant. Calender417 Mich. 523, 339 N.W.2d 440
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

William L. Grossmann, Flint, for defendant-appellant in No. 60641.

Robert E. Weiss, Genesee County Pros. Atty., Donald A. Kuebler, Chief, Asst. Pros. Atty., Edwin R. Brown, Asst. Pros. Atty., for plaintiff-appellee in No. 60641.

Robert H. Cleland, St. Clair County Pros. Atty. by C. Denton Wolf, Chief Appellate Atty., Port Huron, for plaintiff-appellee in No. 60893.

State Appellate Defender Office by P.E. Bennett, Asst. State Appellate Defender, F. Martin Tieber, Deputy State Appellate Defender, Lansing, for defendant-appellant in No. 60893.

Robert E. Weiss, Genesee County Pros. Atty. by Donald A. Kuebler, Chief, Asst. Pros. Atty., for plaintiff-appellee in No. 62938.

Lawson & Lawson, P.C., by David M. Lawson, Southfield, for defendant-appellant in No. 62938.

Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Louis J. Caruso, Sol. Gen., Mary C. Smith, Asst. Atty. Gen., Lansing, amicus curiae.

Carol S. Irons, Kent County Asst. Pros. Atty., Lansing, amicus curiae.

Marjory B. Cohen, Mogill, Posner, Cohen & Weiss, Detroit (Barbara Patek, Detroit, on brief), amicus curiae.

CAVANAGH, Justice.

Defendant Coles, an 18-year-old with no prior record, was convicted by a jury of armed robbery 1 and sentenced to a term in prison of 15 to 25 years. His conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Defendant Waits was convicted by a jury of delivery of heroin 2 and sentenced to a term in prison of 13 to 20 years. Defendant Waits' prior record consists of several misdemeanor convictions and a 12-year-old felony conviction of attempted larceny from an automobile. His conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Defendant Gonzales, a 19-year-old, pled guilty as charged to armed robbery 3 and was sentenced to a term of 15 to 40 years in prison. Defendant Gonzales admitted to having been convicted of a prior felony, although the record is unclear regarding whether he was a juvenile at that time. His presentence report indicates that his juvenile record was extensive. The Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence.

We granted leave to appeal in these three cases and directed the parties to include among the issues to be briefed whether this Court should adopt, implement, and apply a procedure for appellate review of criminal sentences and, if necessary, reconsider this Court's decision in Cummins v. People, 42 Mich. 142, 3 N.W. 305 (1879). 4

I. Appellate Review of Sentencing
A. History of Appellate Review of Sentencing in This State.

The source of the Michigan rule regarding appellate review of sentencing apparently dates back to the 1879 case of Cummins v. People. In Cummins, the defendant was convicted of breaking and entering an occupied dwelling and stealing a bottle of sherry and an unspecified quantity of cigars. Defendant was sentenced to a term of seven years in prison and argued on appeal that his sentence constituted cruel or unusual punishment. This Court held that:

"The sentence was not in excess of that permitted by statute, and when within the statute, this court has no supervisory control over the punishment that shall be inflicted. The statute gives a wide discretionary power to the trial court upon the supposition that it will be judicially exercised in view of all the facts and circumstances appearing on the trial." 5 (Emphasis added.)

It is apparent from the above-quoted holding in Cummins that this Court did not establish a rule which precluded appellate courts from reviewing a sentence imposed upon a convicted defendant; rather, the Court merely established that the scope of review was to be a narrow one. The intended result of Cummins was that if an appellate court reviewed a sentence and found it to fall within the statutory limits, the court would be precluded from providing any relief to the defendant with respect to altering the punishment imposed by the trial court. The decision in Cummins did not preclude appellate review of a convicted defendant's sentence because only after such review could it be determined whether the trial court judicially exercised its discretion in imposing a sentence within the statutory limitations or even whether the court imposed a sentence that was illegal and subject to appellate relief.

Unfortunately, the decision in Cummins provided no clear standard regarding the scope of appellate review of sentences imposed within statutory limitations. Although the Cummins holding appears to stand for the proposition that there should be no appellate review of sentences imposed within statutory limits, this Court has regularly entertained arguments from convicted defendants who allege that a particular sentence, imposed within the statutory limit constitutes cruel or unusual punishment in violation of the state constitution. 6 Such review is necessary because the judicial premise that the length of imprisonment for a felony is for the Legislature to determine 7 cannot be taken as absolute; statutory sentences must be subject to judicial review in order to ensure that the constitutional prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment is not violated.

This Court, in People v. Lorentzen, 387 Mich. 167, 194 N.W.2d 827 (1972), examined prior Michigan case law dealing with the issue of appellate review of sentences alleged to constitute cruel or unusual punishment. The Court concluded that the dominant test to be used in reviewing whether a sentence constitutes cruel or unusual punishment is whether the punishment is so excessive that it is completely unsuitable to the crime. In addition to examining this test of the proportionality of the sentence imposed to the offense committed, the Court looked to comparative law from other states in order to determine what punishment is considered appropriate for a given offense. Under this test, the definition of cruel or unusual punishment becomes a flexible one, changing with the evolving standards of decency as expressed by similar penal statutes. Finally, the Court also concluded that a punishment may be considered unconstitutionally cruel or unusual if it thwarts the rehabilitative potential of the individual offender and does not contribute toward society's efforts to deter others from engaging in similar prohibited behavior. On the basis of these three tests, this Court concluded in Lorentzen that the statute pertaining to the sale of marijuana violated the prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment, and the defendant's sentence was vacated.

Although there is a long line of cases which indicates this Court's unwillingness to review sentences which are within legal limits, 8 appellate review of sentences historically has encompassed more than the limited considerations whether the sentence imposed was within the statutory limits and whether it constituted cruel or unusual punishment in violation of the constitution. This Court has granted relief to a defendant whose sentence did not include the appropriate credit for time served, 9 whose sentence violated public policy, 10 and whose sentence was not based upon the offense for which the defendant had been convicted. 11

In recent years, the scope of review of sentences has become broader. Sentences have been vacated when imposed as punishment for exercising the right to trial instead of pleading guilty or for waiting until the day of trial to plead guilty, 12 or when imposed by the trial court under the assumption that the defendant was guilty of a crime of which he had not been convicted or in consideration of a previous conviction which was invalid. 13 In addition, this Court held in People v. Tanner, 387 Mich. 683, 199 N.W.2d 202 (1972), that a sentence imposed under the indeterminate sentence act may not include a minimum term which exceeds two-thirds of the maximum term. Defendants are to receive an updated, accurate presentence report, and the trial court's failure to provide such a report and rely on it may require resentencing. 14 A sentence reflecting undue emphasis on revenge or one imposed pursuant to a local sentencing policy which removes the trial court's discretion to individualize sentences is infirm. 15 Defendants are also guaranteed the right of allocution prior to being sentenced and must be resentenced if this right is violated. 16

It is thus clear that appellate review of sentences to date has included both the procedural consideration of how the defendant was sentenced as well as a consideration of whether the substance of the sentence was statutorily or constitutionally permissible. What is now at issue is whether we should more clearly expand the scope of appellate review to include a review of the trial court's exercise of discretion in sentencing a defendant when the sentence falls within statutory limits which do not constitute cruel or unusual punishment, when the sentence does not violate the rule established in Tanner, supra, when the trial court has not relied upon impermissible considerations, and when the court rules relating to sentencing procedures were properly followed. The prosecutors argue that this Court has no authority to expand the scope of appellate review of sentences into the area of the exercise of the trial court's discretion and that there is no need for such an expansion because the present scope of judicial and executive review of sentencing adequately protects a defendant's rights. Defendants respond by arguing that not only does this Court have the authority to expand the scope of appellate review of sentences but that...

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