Appeals court says judge may be ‘in the wrong line of work,’ vacates sentence for a second time
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The Michigan Court of Appeals has once again vacated a sentence imposed by a Michigan judge in a fatal stabbing case, citing his “blatant refusal” to follow precedent that bars judges from considering acquitted conduct in sentencing.
The appeals court said a different judge would sentence the defendant, Dawn Marie Dixon-Bey, who fatally stabbed her boyfriend on Valentine’s Day in 2015.
The Washington Post, the Associated Press and Fox 47 News have coverage of the Feb. 1 decision.
The judge, Judge John McBain of Jackson County, Michigan, refused to impose a sentence in the guidelines range of 12 to 20 years in prison both times that he sentenced the defendant.
Jurors had found Dixon-Bey guilty of second-degree murder.
“It could not be plainer that the jury acquitted defendant of first-degree murder because it found that the element of premeditation was not established,” the Michigan Court of Appeals said.
Yet McBain sentenced Dixon-Bey as though she had been found guilty of first-degree murder, the appeals court said. Indeed, McBain declared that Dixon-Bey committed “a cold blooded, premeditated stabbing,” even though premeditation wasn’t established.
The first time, McBain sentenced Dixon-Bey to 35 to 70 years in prison, saying she “brutally murdered” the victim “in cold blood.” After the appeals court vacated that sentence, McBain sentenced the woman to 30 to 70 years in prison.
Between the 2016 and 2020 sentencings, the Michigan Supreme Court decided Michigan v. Beck, which held that a trial judge can’t use acquitted conduct in crafting a sentence.
The appeals court said judges aren’t obligated to agree with decisions by higher courts, but they must comply with them.
“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,” the Michigan Court of Appeals said.
The appeals court also said McBain deprived Dixon-Bey of her right to speak during sentencing. McBain interrupted Dixon-Bey, asked how she took the victim’s life, and then answered the question for her.
“With two stab wounds directly to the heart, right?” McBain asked.
The appeals court said McBain’s commentary indicated that he wished to provide his own testimony, “seemingly in the pursuit of a sentencing decision [he] had already decided upon.”
“Allocution is the defendant’s opportunity to address the court, not the court’s opportunity to conduct an interrogation or deliver a lecture,” the Michigan Court of Appeals said.
McBain has previously been in the news for helping tackle a defendant who resisted courtroom handcuffing, for aggressive questioning of defense witnesses that resulted in a murder retrial, and for ordering a defense lawyer to be locked up during a lunch break after refusing instructions to sit down.
McBain didn’t comment on the Dixon-Bey case when contacted by the Washington Post and Fox 47 News.