Michigan Judge Shocked To Find That Appeals Court Really Meant It When They Said 'Knock That Shit Off'

Legal
Michigan Judge Shocked To Find That Appeals Court Really Meant It When They Said 'Knock That Shit Off'

Lace up your mukluks, kids, because today's episode of "Our Criminal Justice System: It's So Fucked!" takes us to snowy Michigan. Because judicial fuckery doesn't care about your vacation plans!

As flagged by the Washington Post, back in 2016, a jury convicted Dawn Dixon-Bey of second degree murder for killing her partner. The jury acquitted her of first degree murder, which includes a finding of premeditation. Nevertheless, Judge John McBain sentenced her as if she'd been convicted of first degree murder.

The victim "had a lot of really great qualities and he had one major fatal flaw, that’s that he stayed in a relationship with you," McBain said from the bench, before sentencing Dixon-Bey to 35 to 70 years in prison. He noted that the guideline sentence for second degree murder was 12 to 20 years, but declared that it was justified based on the "calculated" — i.e. premeditated — nature of the crime.


I did consider the sentencing guidelines which were 12 years to 20 years but I considered that the additional level of depraved heart and murder and the cold calculated nature of you brutally stabbing him twice in the heart and letting him bleed to death and die in this matter. So, the court believes my sentence is within the range. The guidelines are only advisory so you will serve that time. You’ll be an old woman before you get out of prison.

Dixon-Bey appealed, and in 2017 the Court of Appeals vacated the sentence, holding that Judge McBain had abused his discretion and violated the mandate of proportionality by sentencing her as if she'd been convicted of first degree murder. Which, again, she was not.

When an appeals court says that the trial judge abused his discretion and vacates the sentence, that means that the defendant is supposed to be re-sentenced in line with the appellate court's holding — i.e. not the exact same sentence, or, if the same sentence, using some plausible, as yet unmentioned rationale.

But that's not what happened here.

“I want to be clear, I absolutely intend to sentence her at the very top end at 20 years, except that I just don’t think 20 years is an adequate sentence for this brutal, premeditated murder,” McBain said when he re-sentenced her in 2020. “I think I can still consider that evidence of premeditation and deliberation – even though she didn’t get convicted of it – it was evidence before the court and jury.”

Indeed, it was "evidence before the court and jury," and the jury explicitly rejected it when it refused to convict Dixon-Bey of first degree murder because they found that her crime was not "premeditated." Moreover, as the Court of Appeals painstakingly laid out in its opinion, none of the factors cited by the trial judge were sufficient to justify a massive upward departure from the sentencing guidelines that would allow the court to treat her as if she had actually been convicted of first degree murder.

Dixon-Bey appealed again, and this time the court was less painstaking and more pissed off.

No law or rule obligates courts or individual judges to agree with decisions and opinions from higher courts. Nor is there any law or rule obligating courts or judges to pretend to agree with decisions and opinions from higher courts. However, courts are obligated to comply with decisions and opinions from higher courts. [...]

To be clear, lower courts must follow decisions of higher courts even if they believe the higher court’s decision was wrongly decided or has become obsolete. If a trial judge is unable to follow the law as determined by a higher appellate court, the trial judge is in the wrong line of work. [Citations omitted.]

The appellate judges were also furious that Judge McBain tried to force the defendant to admit to premeditation during the re-sentencing allocution. In plain English, she was allowed to explain to the court why she thought she should get a lower sentence, but instead the judge turned it into an opportunity to elicit further incriminating testimony justifying a sentence the appellate court had already found was disproportionate. Which is not how any of this goes!

"The trial court’s commentary indicated that it wished to provide its own testimony, seemingly in the pursuit of a sentencing decision it had already decided upon before allocution and contrary to the law as explained by both attorneys," the appeals court wrote, adding that "the trial court had abandoned its role as an impartial magistrate and instead usurped the role of prosecutor."

Dixon-Bey will get a third sentencing hearing, with another, hopefully less lunatic judge. And the appellate court strongly suggests that someone might think about filing a complaint with Michigan's Judicial Tenure Commission. So this episode of "OCJS: ISF!" has a happy ending — or happyish. We are still a bloodthirsty nation which locks up a higher percentage of our population than any other country on earth.

The carceral state sucks.

[MI Live / WaPo / Appellate Docket]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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