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Feb-21-2020 13:49printcomments

When the Sentence Does Not Fit the Crime

67-year old Michael Thompson won't be free till 2038.

Michael Thompson prison
Michael Thompson is serving a virtual Life Sentence in Michigan. Photo provided by Deedee Kirkwood

(PORTLAND, Ore.) - How does a non-violent person in America end up in prison for his or her entire life? It’s natural to assume the most severe sentences in our judicial system are reserved for the most violent criminals, rapists and murderers.

The truth is, the system is literally stacked against us.

As a society, do we believe a drug offender should be locked up forever? We are fed judicial dogma that once we have served our time we can resume the quest for the American dream with a fresh slate. We believe only the worst of us actually spend their life in prison.

The fact of the matter is, staying out of the prison system isn’t always that simple. In addition, we know drug addiction and poverty are complicated social concerns without simple answers that often turn into criminal cases.

The war on drugs elevated the black market into a tempting way to earn some cash. Furthermore, criminalizing addiction while simultaneously fostering an assault on communities in the form of a prescription pad has sped up the revolving door of the prison industrial complex.

Michael Thompson, In Custody

Let me illustrate my point with the following case, 67-year-old, Michael Thompson. In December of 1994 Michael Thompson delivered three pounds of cannabis to a family friend. Unbeknownst to him, the ‘friend’ had gotten himself in trouble with the law and made a deal with the police to reduce his sentence... in return for setting up Michael. Michael fell for the trap and was arrested.

What made this arrest more consequential is that Michael had a criminal history. In 1984 Michael was convicted of conspiracy to unlawfully manufacture/deliver/possess a controlled substance. He served 10 years for this crime.

In the previously mentioned 1994 incident, Michael was convicted of three different marijuana related offenses. He was sentenced to 10-15 years and the offenses were discharged in 2011 but Michael Thompson wasn’t.

Sentence enhancements sealed his fate. Unfortunately for Michael, guns were found in a closet in his home. Prosecutors added weapons charges to the marijuana charges.

With enhancements due to his "habitual offender" status, he was sentenced to a grand total of 40-60 years. As a reminder, this particular incident started over 3 pounds of cannabis. Everything Michael had ever done was used against him.

The earliest Michael will be free is 2038 when he is 86 years old.

Typical Sentencing Ignorance

When asked if he knew he was risking spending the rest of his life locked up, Michael replied, “I was totally ignorant to that fact of being in the position where I could receive such a lengthy sentence!!”

How can anyone blame him? First of all, the Sentencing guide for Michigan (mjieducation.mi.gov/documents/sgm-files/94-sgm/file) is 228 pages long. It appears to be very complicated and based on a point system.

In short, each offender is evaluated and given a score in 7 areas regarding their previous offenses or PRV’s. Then the present offense is scored based on a set of variables or OV’s. Lastly, one needs to determine which ‘crime group’ the offense should be classified in. Once all the ‘points’ are added up they are then plugged into a chart such as the one below.`

As you can see, it’s nearly impossible to simply look at the matrix and pinpoint where you may land. While researching this topic, I got lost in the myriad pages of grids and charts.

Confusing charts aside, buried within the 228-page document I found the real nail in Michael’s coffin. The guidelines for habitual offenders.

As a habitual offender the sentence imposed increases as follows:

  • Second Habitual Offender (HO2) – increase the upper limit of the appropriate cell by 25%.
  • Third Habitual Offender (HO3) – increase the upper limit of the appropriate cell by 50%.
  • Fourth Habitual Offender (HO4) – increase the upper limit of the appropriate cell by 100%.

In other words, a four time offender with a sentence of 15-20 years gets 20 more years added. In some cases, especially violent criminal activity, an increased sentence could be just. However, the phrase ‘habitual offender’ can be misleading.

For example, in Michael’s case, multiple charges were imposed for the one incident, resulting in what appears to be a lengthy rap sheet. Each of those offenses count against him as if they were different incidents. By the time the sentence for his gun charge was imposed he had over 4 convictions.

Therefore, it is conceivable that anyone could be sentenced as a 4 time habitual offender on concurrent first, second, or third non-violent incidents, resulting in a virtual life sentence.

Moreover, according to the website FindLaw,(https://statelaws.findlaw.com/michigan-law/michigan-rape-laws.html), a second or third degree Criminal Sexual Conduct conviction carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in Michigan. A 4 time habitual sex offender's sentence is enhanced to 30 years. The person who commits that violent sex offence will be out before Michael Thompson. How is that justice?

25 Years Already Gone

Presently, Michael has served over 25 years. Along the way, his case has attracted support from prison reform groups around the country, all of which agree enough is enough! Michael has paid his debt to society and should get another chance at freedom. Recently, his case has gained the recognition of national media.

According to the website FindLaw,(statelaws.findlaw.com/michigan-law/michigan-rape-laws.html), a second or third degree Criminal Sexual Conduct conviction carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in Michigan.

If you are a 4 time habitual offender your sentence is enhanced to 30 years. The person who commits that violent offence will be out before Michael Thompson. How is that justice?

Michael’s case was reviewed by the Michigan State Parole board. On the way out of office, Governor Rick Snyder reportedly commuted over 60 offenders sentences. Many of theses people had been convicted of charges related to theft, burglary, and even murder. Michael Thompson, for reasons unknown to him, was denied release.

This setback re-energized Michael's supporters who had every reason to believe he would have been included with the other’s released by Snyder.

Now, hope is in the hands of the new governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer. Governor Whitmer reportedly supports criminal justice reform, although to what extent? Will she be the one to finally give Michael Thompson another chance?

This is my interpretation of the sentencing guidelines for one state and how they affect one person. However, Michael Thompson is not alone in his plight. You are encouraged to research your own state and determine for yourself the degree of fairness regarding sentencing guidelines in your community.

For more information about Michael Thompson visit:
www.freemichaelthompson.com/.

To reach Michael directly, you may write to him at:

Michael Thompson #176309
Muskegon Correctional Facility
2400 S, Sheridan Dr.
Muskegon, MI 49442-6298

Sources:

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Mindi Hall, Writer is Co-founder at Voices Of The Cannabis War, Volunteer at Freedom Grow and Volunteer at CAN-DO Foundation - Justice Through Clemency. She has been a KBOO Community Radio Volunteer and Cchi2016 RADIO, Voices Of The Cannabis War Show. You can reach Mindi Hall at thetigerfairytrap@gmail.com.

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Lee February 23, 2020 8:23 am (Pacific time)

How about, stop breaking the law?! It's not stacked against anyone.. the rules are in black and white.. he knew the consequences of his habitual actions and did not seek help to change his ways..

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