Court: Restitution a civil remedy, doesn’t increase punishment

By Ben Solis
Gongwer News Service

The imposition of restitution is meant to be a civil remedy and not a form of punishment that adds to the weight of a sentence and is therefore not a violation of constitutional ex post facto clauses, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled Monday.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Elizabeth Clement, the entire bench upheld a 2022 unpublished decision from the Court of Appeals in a winding criminal case that involved the resentencing of the defendant in People v. Neilly (MSC Docket No. 165185).

The case centered around a Kalamazoo Circuit Court conviction of the defendant for first-degree murder and other felonies, who was 17 years old at the time of the crime. He was sentenced to mandatory life without parole, but without a restitution order.

In Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory LWOP sentences were unconstitutional for people under the age of 18 years old.

On resentencing, a Kalamazoo Circuit Court judge issued a sentence of 35 to 60 years in prison instead of life without parole. It also ordered the defendant to pay nearly $15,000 in restitution to the victim’s family.

The defendant argued the order violated both the U.S. and Michigan constitutions’ ex post facto clauses because it added to his punishment.

In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals held that restitution was a civil remedy and not a form of punishment, and the imposition did not increase punishment of the new sentence imposed.

Upon hearing the case, Clement and the high court bench agreed.

“In enacting the restitution statutes, the Legislature intended to create a civil remedy. Although the imposition of these statutes has some punitive effect, that effect is not sufficient to overcome the demonstrated legislative intent,” Clement wrote. “Accordingly, the imposition of restitution is not punishment. Given this conclusion, the trial court’s application of the current restitution statutes on defendant during resentencing does not violate the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the United States and Michigan Constitutions because it does not constitute a retroactive increase in punishment.”

Subscribe to the Legal News!
Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more
Day Pass Only $4.95!
One-County $80/year
Three-County & Full Pass also available