The Michigan Supreme Court says a judge sentencing a defendant for a criminal matter cannot base the sentence on crimes the defendant was acquitted of.
The issue came up when a defendant was charged with multiple crimes – including murder. Eric Beck went to trial on multiple charges stemming from a shooting, but the jury ultimately couldn’t decide if Beck was the shooter. As a result, Beck was acquitted of murder, but found guilty on other charges.
The sentencing judge said he believed there was a preponderance of the evidence to show that Beck was guilty of murder – and the Saginaw County judge used that when sentencing the defendant for much more time than normal.
The majority of the Michigan Supreme Court said that’s not okay. It said that would violate the defendant’s right to due process. In the majority opinion, the Court wrote, “When a jury has specifically determined that the prosecution has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant engaged in certain conduct, the defendant continues to be presumed innocent.”
Three of the seven justices disagreed. They said that because the standard of proof is lower for sentencing, the defendant’s due process rights were not violated.