Cruel or Unusual Punishment in Michigan - September 2022

Cruel or Unusual Punishment in Michigan
Last month’s column focused on a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada outlawing a life without parole sentence as cruel and unusual punishment under the Canadian Constitution. This month, we look at punishments found to be cruel or unusual under Article 1, Section 16 of the Michigan Constitution. The list is not long, but it gained three notable additions in June and July:

50-year sentence for carnally knowing and abusing 10-year-old cousin
People v Murray, 72 Mich 10; 40 NW2d 29 (1888) (dicta) (endnote 1)
Mandatory 20-year minimum term for sale of marijuana
People v Lorentzen, 387 Mich 167; 194 NW2d 827 (1972) (endnote 2)
Mandatory life without parole for possession of 650 or more grams of cocaine
People v Bullock, 440 Mich 15; 485 NW2d 866 (1992) (endnote 3)
Ten-year period of sex offender registration for 18-year-old who pleaded guilty to attempted third-degree CSC for consensual sex with his nearly 15-year-old girlfriend, resulting in successful completion of Holmes Youthful Trainee Act and no conviction
People v Dipiazza, 286 Mich App 137; 778 NW2d 264 (2009)
Fifteen-year period of sex offender registration for an individual convicted of the non-sex crime of unlawful imprisonment of his own minor children
People v Lymon, ___ Mich App ___ (Docket No. 327355, 6/16/22)
Mandatory life without parole for first-degree murder committed by 18-year-old
People v Parks, ___ Mich ___ (Docket No. 162086, 7/28/22)
Life without parole for juvenile convicted of second-degree murder
People v Stovall, ___ Mich ___ (Docket No. 162425, 7/28/22)

The sentiment from last month’s column bears repetition:  Times change, and changing times can be a good thing.

by Anne Yantus
Michigan Sentencing PLLC
Copyright Anne Yantus 2022
Anne Yantus is a sentence consultant, working with court-appointed and retained attorneys to promote more favorable sentencing outcomes.  Anne credits her knowledge of Michigan sentencing law to the many years she spent handling plea and sentencing appeals with the State Appellate Defender Office.  Following her time with SADO, Anne taught a criminal sentencing course at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and subsequently continued to write and speak on felony sentencing law while serving as pro bono counsel with Bodman PLC.  Anne welcomes your Michigan felony sentencing questions and is happy to arrange a no-cost consultation for court-appointed attorneys using available Michigan Indigent Defense Commission funds.


1. The Supreme Court granted a new trial on evidentiary grounds but also called “special attention” to the sentence that it viewed as constitutionally excessive because it “will very likely reach beyond the natural life” of the 23-year-old defendant.  72 Mich at 16-17.
2. See also People v Sinclair, 387 Mich 91, 134-153; 194 NW2d 878 (1972) (three justices would have found cruel or unusual punishment in a minimum term of 9.5 years for unlawful possession of two marijuana cigarettes; defendant won relief through a variety of opinions for the majority finding the statute under which he was convicted unconstitutional).
3. As an aside, and contrary to what is sometimes said by trial judges about the damaging effects that drug offenses have on the community, the Supreme Court adds in Bullock that it would be “profoundly unfair to impute full personal responsibility and moral guilt to defendants for any and all collateral acts, unintended by them, which might have been later committed by others in connection with the seized cocaine.” The Court goes on to state, “Persons who independently commit violent and other crimes in connection with illegal drugs can and should be held individually responsible by our criminal justice system.” 440 Mich at 39.