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People v. Steanhouse

Court of Appeals of Michigan

December 5, 2017

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ALEXANDER JEREMY STEANHOUSE, Defendant-Appellant.

         Wayne Circuit Court LC No. 11-011939-FC

          Before: M. J. Kelly, P.J., and Servitto and Stephens, JJ.

          ON REMAND

          M. J. Kelly, P.J.

         This case returns to this Court after remand by the Michigan Supreme Court, which ordered this Court to review defendant, Alexander Steanhouse's, sentence in accordance with its decision in People v Steanhouse, 500 Mich. 453, 461; 902 N.W.2d 327 (2017) (Steanhouse II). Because we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in applying the principle of proportionality by failing to provide adequate reasons for the extent of the departure sentence imposed, we reverse and remand for resentencing.

         I. BASIC FACTS

         A jury convicted Steanhouse of assault with intent to commit murder, MCL 750.83, and receiving or concealing stolen property, MCL 750.535(3)(a). Although Steanhouse's minimum sentencing guidelines range was 171 to 285 months, the trial court departed upward and sentenced him to 30 to 60 years' imprisonment for the assault conviction and one to five years' imprisonment for the receiving or concealing stolen property conviction.

         At the time Steanhouse was sentenced, a trial court could depart upward from the minimum guidelines range only for substantial and compelling reasons. See MCL 769.34(3). However, in People v Lockridge, 498 Mich. 358, 364-365; 870 N.W.2d 502 (2015), after determining that the legislative sentencing guidelines were unconstitutional, our Supreme Court struck down that requirement and held that a departure sentence must instead "be reviewed by appellate courts for reasonableness." Steanhouse appealed his convictions and sentences to this Court. We affirmed his convictions, determined that the proper framework for reviewing a departure sentence for reasonableness was to apply the principle of proportionality standard set forth in People v Milbourn, 435 Mich. 630; 461 N.W.2d 1 (1990), and concluded that because the trial court had not been aware that its departure sentence would be reviewed under the Milbourn standard it was proper to remand back to the trial court for a Crosby[1] hearing as set forth in Lockridge. People v Steanhouse, 313 Mich.App. 1, 42, 44-49; 880 N.W.2d 297 (2015) (Steanhouse I).

         Steanhouse and the prosecutor filed applications for leave to appeal to our Supreme Court. The Court granted the prosecutor's application, [2] and it affirmed "that the proper inquiry when reviewing a sentence for reasonableness is whether the trial court abused its discretion by violating [Milbourn's] 'principle of proportionality . . . .' " Steanhouse II, 500 Mich. at 459-460. The Court, however, reversed this Court's opinion "to the extent [it] remanded to the trial court for further sentencing proceedings under [Crosby]." Id. at 460. On remand, this Court is directed to consider whether the trial court's departure sentence was reasonable under the Milbourn standard. Id. at 461.

         II. PRINCIPLE OF PROPORTIONALITY

         A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Steanhouse argues that the trial court's sentence was unreasonable because it was not proportional under the Milbourn standard. We review for reasonableness a trial court's decision to depart from the applicable sentencing guidelines range. Lockridge, 498 Mich. at 365. When reviewing a departure sentence for reasonableness, we must review "whether the trial court abused its discretion by violating the principle of proportionality set forth" in Milbourn. Steanhouse II, 500 Mich. at 477. A trial court abuses its discretion if it violates the principle of proportionality test "by failing to provide adequate reasons for the extent of the departure sentence imposed. . . ." Id. at 476. In such cases, this Court must remand to the trial court for resentencing. Id.

         B. ANALYSIS

         Under the principle of proportionality standard, a sentence must be "proportionate to the seriousness of the circumstances surrounding the offense and the offender." Milbourn, 435 Mich. at 636. As such, the sentencing court must impose a sentence that takes "into account the nature of the offense and the background of the offender." Id. at 651. Generally, sentences falling within the minimum sentencing guidelines range are presumptively proportionate. People v Cotton, 209 Mich.App. 82, 85; 530 N.W.2d 495 (1995).[3] However, a departure sentence may be imposed when the trial court determines that "the recommended range under the guidelines is disproportionate, in either direction, to the seriousness of the crime." Milbourn, 435 Mich. at 657. Factors that may be considered under the principle of proportionality standard include, but are not limited to:

(1) the seriousness of the offense; (2) factors that were inadequately considered by the guidelines; and (3) factors not considered by the guidelines, such as the relationship between the victim and the aggressor, the defendant's misconduct while in custody, the defendant's expressions of remorse, and the defendant's potential for rehabilitation. [People v Lawhorn, ___ Mich.App. ___, ...

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