The Michigan Supreme Court has been called a ‘national leader’ for their recent decision to overturn a long prison sentence handed to a man who had been aquitted of murder charges, but convicted of a firearm charge. It was an unprecedented case, and one that attorneys all over the country are saying will likely become a turning point in the future for people who received harsh sentences for certain suspected conduct, despite being acquitted of those charges. Criminal defense attorneys sometimes refer to this as being punished for something that you didn’t do. Here at The Kronzek Firm, we’ve seen that happen a lot over the past 25 years of fighting for our clients in Michigan.
The jury decided the defendant was NOT guilty of murder
Eric Beck was accused of fatally shooting Hoshea Pruitt after a fight. Given his past criminal record, which included murder and numerous firearm convictions, the jury’s decision was a surprise. They decided that Beck was NOT guilty of murdering Pruitt, but was guilty of felony firearm charges. Beck was sentenced as a fourth-offense habitual offender for being a felon in possession of a firearm, and for carrying a firearm during the commission of a felony, second offense.
But it went a lot further than that! Judge James Borchard of Saginaw County Circuit Court stated on the record that he believed Beck was guilty of Pruitt’s murder. As a result, he handed down two extremely long sentences of five years and 20-33 years for the firearm crimes, hoping to compensate for the jury’s “mistake”. Note that judges cannot override a jury’s verdict of acquittal because of constitutional issues regarding double jeopardy. However, a Michigan judge can reverse a jury’s verdict of guilty. Go wrap your brain around that one.
But Beck’s attorney said it was a violation of his client’s rights!
Under normal circumstances, the two firearm convictions Beck received from the jury would have resulted in a much shorter sentence. This is because a judge is supposed to sentence a defendant based on the advisory sentencing “guidelines” for each crime. In this case, the guidelines suggested 22-76 months. But Judge Borchard didn’t think they were long enough prison terms. So he tacked on a couple of decades for good measure. Yes, technically, judges can do upward or downward departures from those advisory guidelines provided the departures are proportional to the crimes.
The appeal process took Beck’s case all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, where the Justices agreed that the unjust sentence was a violation of his Constitutional right to trial by a jury. “Without any doubt,” Beck’s attorney told the press, “the Michigan Supreme Court is now this nation’s strongest and leading voice in support of the principle that guilt is decided not by the government, a judge, or prosecutor, but by the people,”
The ruling has garnered a lot of national attention.
The Michigan Supreme Court has gotten a lot of attention across the U.S. in the wake of this ruling. In discussing the ruling with The Detroit News, Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford University in California, called it a bold decision that highlights a real injustice. He also noted that he “wouldn’t be surprised at all if defense lawyers for people sitting in prison now tried to reopen their cases.”
As we’ve mentioned before, one of the best ways to avoid being sentenced to prison time by a jury is to make sure you have an aggressive defense attorney. So if you’ve been accused of a crime in Michigan, call 866 766 5245 and ensure that you have one of Michigan’s best criminal defense trial teams on your side. We’re available 24/7, including weekends and holidays, to help you defend your rights. Call 1 866 7NoJail for aggressive, tough criminal defense.