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145677 - People v Earl (Ronald)

The People of the State of Michigan,
Louis F. Meizlish
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
(Oakland – Bowman, L.)
Ronald Lee Earl,
Christopher M. Smith


​On March 18, 2010, Ronald Lee Earl, dressed as a woman, robbed a Southfield branch of Bank of America. Earl was convicted by a jury of that robbery and also of two counts of possessing narcotics. The trial court sentenced Earl as a habitual offender, fourth offense, to concurrent prison terms of 10 to 40 years for the robbery and two to 15 years for each drug conviction.

The court also ordered Earl to pay a $130 crime victim’s assessment fee, as authorized under Michigan’s Crime Victim’s Rights Act, MCL 780.751 et seq. The Michigan Constitution, art 1, § 24(3), states that “[t]he legislature may provide for an assessment against convicted defendants to pay for crime victims’ rights.” As of March 2010, the CVRA provided that a person convicted of a felony could be assessed a $60 crime victim’s fee. But the statute was amended by 2010 PA 281 to increase the statutory assessment to $130; the amendment went into effect on December 16, 2010 – after Earl robbed the bank but before he was sentenced.

Earl appealed on various grounds, arguing, among other matters, that the trial court had made errors in sentencing him and in not suppressing some of the evidence at trial. He also contended that the trial court violated the ex post facto clauses of both the U.S. and Michigan Constitutions by ordering him to pay the $130 fee – instead of the $60 fee that was in effect when he robbed the bank.

But in a published opinion, the Court of Appeals disagreed: “At issue here is whether the fee increase from $60 to $130 increased defendant’s punishment. We find that it did not.

“The ex post facto clauses of both the state and federal constitutions prohibit inflicting a greater punishment for a crime than that provided for when the crime was committed,” the Court of Appeals explained. A statute violates the ex post facto clauses if it “(1) makes punishable that which was not, (2) makes an act a more serious criminal offense, (3) increases the punishment, or (4) allows the prosecution to convict on less evidence.”

The panel cited the Court of Appeals’ decision in People v Matthews, 202 Mich App 175 (1993), in which the defendant contended that the crime victim’s assessment amounted to an unauthorized tax. The Matthews court rejected that argument, “given that Const 1963, art 1, § 24 specifically provides for such an assessment.” Moreover, the crime victim’s assessment “is not intended to be a form of restitution dependent upon the injury suffered by any individual victim,” but is intended by the Legislature to fund services for all crime victims, the Matthews court reasoned.

In Earl’s case, the Court of Appeals said, the same reasoning applied. “Thus, while it is true that restitution is a form of punishment such that any newly authorized form of restitution may amount to an increase in the defendant’s punishment, an assessment under the CVRA is neither restitution nor punishment.”

Moreover, ex post facto clauses do not apply “to legislative control of remedies and modes of procedure that do not affect matters of substance.” Statutes that “operate in furtherance of a remedy or mode of procedure” and that “neither create new rights nor destroy, enlarge, or diminish existing rights are generally held to operate retrospectively” absent a contrary legislative intent, the Court of Appeals stated.

“As clearly enunciated in Matthews, an assessment under the CVRA is not, in fact, restitution. It is not punitive in nature nor does it affect matters of substance. Our Constitution has specifically authorized the Legislature to provide for an assessment against convicted defendants for the benefit of victims of crime. Accordingly, the trial court’s order that defendant pay $130 under the CVRA is not a violation of the ex post facto constitutional clauses.”

Earl filed an application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. In an order dated March 20, 2013, the Supreme Court granted his application, “limited to the issue whether the imposition of the increased crime victims rights fund fee violated the defendant’s rights under the Ex Post Facto Clauses, US Const, art I, § 10, and Const 1963, art 1, § 10.”