People v. Skinner

Decision Date20 June 2018
Docket Number No. 153081, No. 153345,No. 152448,152448
Citation502 Mich. 89,917 N.W.2d 292
Parties PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Tia Marie-Mitchell SKINNER, Defendant-Appellee. People of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Kenya Ali Hyatt, Defendant-Appellee. People of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Kenya Ali Hyatt, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, Aaron D. Lindstrom, Solicitor General, Michael D. Wendling, Prosecuting Attorney, and Hilary B. Georgia, Senior Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for the people in Docket No. 152448.

University of Michigan Juvenile Justice Clinic (by Kimberly A. Thomas and Frank E. Vandervort ) for Tia Marie-Mitchell Skinner in Docket No. 152448.

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, Aaron D. Lindstrom, Solicitor General, David S. Leyton, Prosecuting Attorney, and Joseph F. Sawka, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for the people in Docket Nos. 153081 and 153345.

Ronald D. Ambrose for Kenya Ali Hyatt in Docket Nos. 153081 and 153345.

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, Aaron D. Lindstrom, Solicitor General, Matthew Schneider, Chief Legal Counsel, and Linus Banghart-Linn, Assistant Attorney General, for amici curiae, the Attorney General in Docket No. 152448.

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, Aaron D. Lindstrom, Solicitor General, Laura Moody, Chief Legal Counsel, and B. Eric Restuccia, Deputy Solicitor General, for amici curiae, the Genesee County Prosecutor in Docket No. 153081.

Mark Reene, Kym L. Worthy, Jason W. Williams, and Timothy A. Baughman for amici curiae, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan in Docket Nos. 152448 and 153081.

Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP (by Philip J. Kessler, Leonard M. Niehoff, and Robert M. Riley ) for amici curiae, the Fair Punishment Project in Docket No. 152448.

State Appellate Defender (by Sofia Nelson and Brett DeGroff) for amici curiae, the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan in Docket No. 152448.

Dawn Van Hoek, Michael Mittlestat, and Jessica Zimbelman for amici curiae, the State Appellate Defender Office in Docket No. 153081.

Deborah A. Labelle and Marsha L. Levick for amici curiae, the Juvenile Law Center in Docket No. 153081.

BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH (except Clement, J.)

Markman, C.J.

At issue here is whether MCL 769.25 violates the Sixth Amendment because it allows the decision whether to impose a sentence of life without parole to be made by a judge, rather than by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. We hold that MCL 769.25 does not violate the Sixth Amendment because neither the statute nor the Eighth Amendment requires a judge to find any particular fact before imposing life without parole; instead, life without parole is authorized by the jury's verdict alone. Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals in Skinner and affirm the part of Hyatt that held that "[a] judge, not a jury, must determine whether to impose a life-without-parole sentence or a term-of-years sentence under MCL 769.25." People v. Hyatt , 316 Mich. App. 368, 415, 891 N.W.2d 549 (2016). However, we reverse the part of Hyatt that adopted a heightened standard of review for life-without-parole sentences imposed under MCL 769.25 and that remanded this case to the trial court for it to "decide whether defendant Hyatt is the truly rare juvenile mentioned in [ Miller v. Alabama , 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012) ] who is incorrigible and incapable of reform." Hyatt , 316 Mich. App. at 429, 891 N.W.2d 549. No such explicit finding is required. Finally, we remand both of these cases to the Court of Appeals for it to review defendants' sentences under the traditional abuse-of-discretion standard of review.

I. FACTS AND HISTORY
A. SKINNER

Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and attempted murder for acts committed when defendant was 17 years old. Defendant was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Court of Appeals remanded for resentencing under Miller , 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407, which held that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for offenders under 18 years old violate the Eighth Amendment. People v. Skinner , unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued February 21, 2013, 2013 WL 951265 (Docket No. 306903). This Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Skinner , 494 Mich. 872, 832 N.W.2d 237 (2013). On remand, the trial court reimposed a life-without-parole sentence. After defendant was resentenced, MCL 769.25 took effect, setting forth a new framework for sentencing juveniles convicted of first-degree murder. The Court of Appeals remanded for resentencing under MCL 769.25. People v. Skinner , unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered July 30, 2014 (Docket No. 317892). On remand, the trial court again sentenced defendant to life without parole.

In a split, published decision, the Court of Appeals again remanded for resentencing, holding that a jury must decide whether defendant should be sentenced to life without parole and that, to the extent that MCL 769.25 requires the trial court to make this determination, it is unconstitutional. People v. Skinner , 312 Mich. App. 15, 877 N.W.2d 482 (2015). This Court granted the prosecutor's application for leave to appeal and directed the parties to address "whether the decision to sentence a person under the age of 18 to a prison term of life without parole under MCL 769.25 must be made by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt[.]" People v. Skinner , 500 Mich. 929, 929, 889 N.W.2d 487 (2017).

B. HYATT

Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of first-degree felony murder, armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony for acts committed when defendant was 17 years old. Following an evidentiary hearing at which the trial court considered the Miller factors, defendant was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In a published opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed defendant's convictions and would have affirmed his sentence but for Skinner , which held that a jury must decide whether to impose a life-without-parole sentence on a juvenile. People v. Hyatt , 314 Mich. App. 140, 885 N.W.2d 900 (2016).

The Court of Appeals declared a conflict pursuant to MCR 7.215(J) and, in a published decision, the conflict panel unanimously disagreed with Skinner and held that a judge may decide whether to impose a nonparolable life sentence on a juvenile. Hyatt , 316 Mich. App. at 415, 891 N.W.2d 549. However, the Court of Appeals reversed defendant's life-without-parole sentence and remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing at which "the trial court must not only consider the Miller factors, but decide whether defendant Hyatt is the truly rare juvenile mentioned in Miller who is incorrigible and incapable of reform." Id . at 429, 891 N.W.2d 549. We directed that oral argument be heard on the prosecutor's application for leave to appeal and instructed the parties to address "whether the conflict-resolution panel of the Court of Appeals erred by applying a heightened standard of review for sentences imposed under MCL 769.25." People v. Hyatt , 500 Mich. 929, 929-930, 889 N.W.2d 487 (2017).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Matters of constitutional and statutory interpretation are reviewed de novo.

People v. Hall , 499 Mich. 446, 452, 884 N.W.2d 561 (2016). In analyzing constitutional challenges to statutes, this Court's "authority to invalidate laws is limited and must be predicated on a clearly apparent demonstration of unconstitutionality."

People v. Harris , 495 Mich. 120, 134, 845 N.W.2d 477 (2014). We require these challenges to meet such a high standard because "[s]tatutes are presumed to be constitutional, and we have a duty to construe a statute as constitutional unless its unconstitutionality is clearly apparent." In re Sanders , 495 Mich. 394, 404, 852 N.W.2d 524 (2014), citing Taylor v. Gate Pharm. , 468 Mich. 1, 6, 658 N.W.2d 127 (2003).

III. BACKGROUND

The issue here involves the interplay between the Sixth and Eighth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The Sixth Amendment provides, in pertinent part:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and the district wherein the crime shall have been committed.... [ U.S. Const., Am. VI.]

The Eighth Amendment provides:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. [ U.S. Const., Am. VIII.]

Specifically, the issue here is whether Apprendi v. New Jersey , 530 U.S. 466, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000), and its progeny require jury findings beyond a reasonable doubt before a sentence of life without parole may be imposed on a person under the age of 18 under MCL 769.25.

MCL 750.316(1) provides, in pertinent part:

Except as provided in sections 25 and 25a of chapter IX of the code of criminal procedure, 1927 PA 175, MCL 769.25 and 769.25a, a person who commits any of the following is guilty of first degree murder and shall be punished by imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole:
(a) Murder perpetrated by means of poison, lying in wait, or any other willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing.
(b) Murder committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, arson, criminal sexual conduct in the first, second, or third degree, child abuse in the first degree, a major controlled substance offense, robbery, carjacking, breaking and entering of a dwelling, home invasion in the first or second degree, larceny of any kind, extortion, kidnapping, vulnerable adult abuse in the first or second degree under [ MCL 750.145n ], torture under [ MCL 750.85 ], aggravated stalking under [ MCL 750.411i ], or unlawful imprisonment under [ MCL 750.349b ].

MCL 769.25, which was enacted...

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