Exercising your right to go to trial instead of simply accepting whatever plea bargain is offered is a vital part of the American judicial system. And despite the fact that trials cost the state considerably more money than a plea hearing and then a sentencing hearing, and takes far more time, it is still something that the accused can choose to do. The fact that it may be expensive, inconvenient or time consuming, is neither here nor here. But apparently one Michigan judge has been “punishing” people who chose trials over plea bargains.
Judges are still answerable to a higher court for their choices
Judge Qiana Denise Lillard of Wayne County has apparently made it a habit to sentence certain criminal defendants at the absolute highest end of their sentencing range. Why? Because they chose to go to trial instead of accepting plea bargains! This judge seems to have believed that this was the better choice. Although, when confronted about this practice, Judge Lillard said that her intention wasn’t to punish people who chose a trial, but rather to reward people who chose plea bargains. Wow, talk about lawyers putting a spin on something, right?
Our Michigan Appeals Court, however, doesn’t buy into that nonsense. In their recent ruling, the appellate court said that “The court may not have intended to punish defendant for exerting his Fifth Amendment rights, but the impact is the same regardless.” The practice, they have decided, violates a defendant’s right to be sentenced based on the particular facts of his or her case , and not based on whether or not they chose to go to trial.
This is the second time they have addressed this issue with Judge Lillard
Sentencing people at the top of their sentencing range is not a new practice for Judge Lillard. And this isn’t the first time the Michigan Court of Appeals has reprimanded her for it. In 2016 the Court of Appeals told her that her harsh sentencing practices for defendants who chose trials was violating their rights. But that opinion (unpublished) wasn’t precedent setting, and so the judge made no effort to change the way she did things.
Their new second opinion, however, is published and therefore, binding. According to the ruling handed down just days ago, the Michigan Court of Appeals have stated that it is a defendant’s right to be granted an individualized sentence, based solely on the facts of their case. And if Judge Lillard continues to sentence defendants at the very top of the sentencing rage in every case where defendants chose a trial, she will be violating the rights of the people who appeal to her for justice.
Choosing a trial over a plea bargain is your right as a defendant!
The American justice system is very clear about the rights that defendants have. You have the right to remain silent, to be (adequately) represented by an attorney, and to confront witnesses. You also have the right to a jury trial, and the right to have that trial be both speedy and public. You also have the right to not be tried for the same crime twice (double jeopardy). All in all, it’s easy to see why the appellate court had issues with Judge Lillard’s sentencing practices in Detroit.
Knowing when to take your case to trial, and when to accept a plea bargain is a very important decision that should be made with the help of your attorney. At The Kronzek Firm we’ve spent decades helping criminal defendants here in Michigan make wise decisions with their legal problems, and helping them achieve the best outcomes in their cases.
Call 866 766 5245 (866 7No Jail) to discuss your criminal case with an experienced criminal defense attorney. You’ve got questions; we’ve got answers.