Michigan Court of Appeals Agrees with Hill v Snyder, Rules MCL 769.25a(6) Unconstitutional

People v Wiley, People v Rucker, COA Nos. 336898 & 338870, issued May 4, 2018
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that MCL 769.25a(6), a statute that deprived juvenile lifers whose offenses were committed before December 15, 1998, of disciplinary credit and good time earned, is an unconstitutional ex post facto law under both the United States and Michigan Constitution. People v Wiley, People v Rucker, ___ Mich App ___ (2018). The court reached its decision adopting the reasoning of Hill v Snyder, where the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that the statute was an unconstitutional ex post facto law under the federal Constitution.

Christopher Wiley was sentenced to life without parole for a murder committed in June 1994 when Wiley was 16 years old. William Rucker was sentenced to life without parole for a murder committed in November 1992 when he was 17 years old. Pursuant to MCL 769.25a, which became effective in 2014 following Miller v Alabama and Montgomery v Louisiana, Wiley was resentenced to a term of 25 to 60 years, and Rucker was resentenced to a term of 30 to 60 years.

Prior to December 15, 1998, individuals serving time in prison were entitled to earn disciplinary and good time credits. Michigan eliminated those credits for individuals whose offenses occurred after December 15, 1998. MCL 769.25a(6) provides that juvenile lifers who are resentenced to a term of years are entitled to credit for time already served, but not for good time or disciplinary credit.

Wiley and Rucker appealed their sentences arguing that MCL 769.25a(6) retroactively deprived them of good time and disciplinary credit earned prior to the enactment of MCL 769.25a and, accordingly, was an unconstitutional ex post facto law. The court consolidated the appeals.  

The prosecution argued that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review Wiley and Rucker’s claims because the appeals went to how the Michigan Department of Corrections calculates parole eligibility, not to the validity of the sentences. The court does not have jurisdiction to review the parole board’s determination of a prisoner’s parole eligibility, the prosecution argued, so the proper vehicle for the claims would be a complaint for habeas corpus or an action for mandamus.

The court disagreed. It found that Wiley and Rucker were challenging the constitutionality of a statutory provision, not a decision of the parole board. It observed that it had jurisdiction over a final judgment, and Wiley and Rucker’s sentences in criminal cases were final judgments. It noted that appointment of appellate counsel for the indigent is discretionary, not mandatory, for a habeas complaint or mandamus action. The court also concluded that it was appropriate to consider the claims because time was of the essence with respect to this constitutional issue.

Having found that it had jurisdiction to review Wiley and Rucker’s claims, the court concluded that MCL 769.25a(6) served to increase the punishment for a prisoner by imposing new restrictions on eligibility for release and made the punishment more onerous for crimes committed before its enactment. Accordingly, the court ruled, MCL 769.25a(6) unconstitutionally deprived Wiley and Rucker of the application of earned disciplinary credits to their sentences in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States and Michigan Constitution. The court directed that the statute could not be used to deprive Wiley and Rucker of disciplinary credits on their minimum and maximum sentences.

Judge Boonstra dissented from the majority’s decision to address the constitutionality of MCL 769.25a(6). He would have held that the claims presented were not ripe (because the parole board determines applicable credits at some time after sentencing), Wiley and Rucker were not aggrieved parties (because the trial court sentences were valid), and the proper vehicle for the claims presented would be a habeas complaint or a mandamus action (because the court did not have jurisdiction to review parole board determinations).

Individuals who have any questions about their individual good time or disciplinary calculations should consult their current or former attorneys for advice.

Find the majority opinion here.

Find the dissent here.