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Michigan judges follow sentencing guidelines, though may disagree

Our justice system is a balancing act between the rights of the accused and the rights of victims. It is also a balancing act between the powers of the legislative and the judicial systems. Simply put, the legislature makes the laws and judges interpret them.

Recently, an Ingham County judge was prohibited from delivering the criminal sentence he wanted for multiple felony counts. A 24-year-old former Michigan State university medical school student was charged with 3 counts of animal cruelty for killing more than a dozen dogs. He was sentenced to five years of probation and 400 hours of community service. In addition, he must have no contact with animals, must remain in treatment, maintain a job working at least 30 hours per week and pay the required fines and restitution.

According to news sources, the prosecutor in the case reluctantly agreed that it was the most that could be reasonably settled upon as a sentence, given the sentencing guidelines for the 24-year-old's specific criminal charges.

Michigan's sentencing guidelines state that even if the 24-year-old was convicted for animal cruelty on all 13 potential counts that the sentence must be served concurrently, rather than consecutively. This means that the maximum time in jail would be four years.

However, the 24-year-old had no previous record, so the legislated guidelines bring his maximum sentence down to nine months. The 24-year-old was given credit for the time he had served (107 days) and the remaining time will be set aside if he successfully completes his probation.

The prosecutor stated that he would have liked to have more time on the sentence, but that the judge's hands were tied. The prosecutor also indicated that animal protection advocates and other members of the public should go to their legislators if they would like the sentencing guidelines changed.

According to the prosecution, and presumably the defense, the legal system worked as well as the legislature designed it to work.

To get the best out of the legal system when you're facing criminal charges, it is imperative that you retain an experienced defense attorney who can protect your interests and present a solid defense.

Source:, "Legislature to blame for probation sentence for admitted dog killer, Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III says," Brandon, Howell, June 13, 2012

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