Miller Factors Apply When Resentencing a Juvenile Lifer to a Term of Years

People v Gregory Wines decided by the Court of Appeals March 8, 2018
The Court of Appeals has ruled that a court must consider the Miller factors when resentencing a former juvenile lifer to a term of years. People v Wines, ___ Mich App ___ (2018). In 1994, Gregory Wines was convicted of first-degree felony murder (as an aider and abettor), and, even though he was a juvenile at the time of the crime, he was sentenced to life without parole. In 2012, in Miller v Alabama, the United States Supreme Court held that only the rare, irreparably corrupt juvenile could constitutionally be sentenced to life without parole. The decision was based on the distinctive attributes of youth including immaturity, vulnerability to negative influences, and lack of character formation. Due to these attributes, the Court concluded, youths have “diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform.” Miller required courts to consider the attributes of youth when considering a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile.

In 2014, in Montgomery v Louisiana, the Court held that Miller applied retroactively, and MCL 769.25a came into effect. The statute requires resentencing of prisoners who had been sentenced to life without parole as juveniles. Under the statute, if the prosecution does not seek re-imposition of life without parole, then the individual must be sentenced to a maximum of 60 years and a minimum of 25 to 40 years. In 2016, Wines was resentenced to a term of 40 to 60 years in prison. The trial court’s reasoning for imposing the maximum possible term of years was based overwhelmingly on the seriousness of the crime and the state’s interest in imposing punishment. The trial court did not consider the Miller factors.

Wines appealed the sentence arguing that Miller constitutionally compelled consideration of the attributes of youth when determining the term of years under MCL 769.25a. The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that consideration of the Miller factors is constitutionally mandated only when re-imposition of a life without parole sentence is sought. Nonetheless, the court ruled that Michigan’s long-established sentencing aims require consideration of the attributes of youth, such as those described in Miller, when resentencing to a term of years.

Michigan’s sentencing aims are described in People v Snow, 386 Mich 586 (1972), which requires courts to balance the following sentencing objectives: “(1) reformation of the offender, (2) protection of society, (3) punishment of the offender, and (4) deterrence of others from committing like offenses.” Wines holds that the proper balancing of these objectives in the case of a minor defendant “necessitates consideration of the distinctive attributes of youth.” Consideration of reformation and societal protection, for instance, are directly related to youth’s diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform. Failure to consider the Miller factors when sentencing a minor to a term of years under MCL 769.25a undermines the sentencing judge’s exercise of discretion and constitutes reversible error. Because the trial court did not consider the Miller factors, the court vacated the 40 to 60 year sentence and remanded for resentencing on the first-degree murder conviction. The court retained jurisdiction.

Wines was also convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery for the events surrounding the murder. He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole for those offenses. He argued that the trial court erred by refusing to resentence him on those charges. The court held that Wines’s arguments on this point had merit, but the Michigan Supreme Court’s remand order, which controlled the court’s review, did not address those issues.

Read the Court of Appeals opinion here.