First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct Penalty - Does LIFE Really Mean Life?

The Michigan First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct law, MCL 750.520b, states that the penalty for Criminal Sexual Conduct 1st Degree is "imprisonment for life or for any term of years.“ But what exactly does this mean? Does this mean that if you are convicted of First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct, that you will actually go to Prison for the rest of your life?

If you or someone you know is being investigated for or charged with First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct in Michigan, then it is important to understand how a sentence for First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC for short) works in the real world. As a top rated Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Defense Attorney, these are the type of questions we answer on a daily basis.

  • SENTENCING GUIDELINES: Second, the determination by a Judge of the sentence for First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct in any particular case begins with the application of the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines. The Sentencing Guidelines are a somewhat complicated mathematical calculation that take into account criminal history in combination with certain “offense variables“ that assign points based on the specific facts and circumstances of the case. For example, in a Criminal Sexual Conduct sentence, more points are added for each instance of criminal sexual penetration under the rules.
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  • The Sentencing Guidelines arrive at a particular range of months. For example, "51 to 85 months." Then, the Judge normally picks a number of months within that range. For example, 68 months. People get confused and think that this is how many months the person will serve. In reality, it only represents the minimum time they'll serve. When the Judge announces the sentence for First Degree CSC, he or she says “I order you to serve a term of 68 months to life in the Michigan Department of Corrections." When that 68th months arrives, that is actually the person's first eligibility for Parole. After a Parole hearing, it is the Parole Board that decides whether the person will be released from Prison on Parole, or denied until the next hearing years down the road. However, even a person who is never granted Parole can never be locked-up beyond the maximum sentence set by the Michigan First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct law, MCL 750.520b.

  • SENTENCING GUIDELINES ARE ONLY GUIDELINES: Third, to throw a monkey wrench into the whole equation, you must understand that a Judge does not have to follow the Guidelines for CSC 1 or any other crime. The judge can set the minimum either above or below the Guidelines. However, the Judge must state reasons to justify their decision. Until recently, a Judge who deviated from the Guidelines had to show “substantial and compelling reasons.“ Now, the standard Is much lower, giving a Judge more freedom to ignore the guidelines. The best way to think of it is just as the word suggests: they are guidelines not strict rules you can count on.
RELATED: Click here to learn about the CSC First Degree multiple variable for "related by blood or affinity to the fourth degree."

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  • "LIFE OR ANY TERM OF YEARS": Fourth, we must understand the phrase “for LIFE or for any term of years" in the Criminal Sexual Conduct 1st Degree statute. “Life“ means simply natural life. If the Judge sentencing someone for First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct says “60 months to life in the Michigan Department of Corrections, then simply put, the person will be in Prison possibly until they are deceased, depending on whether they ever get Parole. However, the phrase “… or for any term of years“ gives the Judge discretion to place a "cap" on the maximum, rather than it just being the rest of someone's life. For example, the Judge may say “85 months to 20 years,“ or “51 months to 40 years,“ etc. In this way, the Michigan First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct law not only gives the Judge the authority to set the minimum, but also the maximum if they wish.
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  • 25 YEAR MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCE: Fifth, recognize that First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct in Michigan is one of a handful of crimes that, under certain circumstances, actually also can have a mandatoryminimum sentence. If you are charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct 1st Degree under the multiple variable alleging an act of sexual penetration where you are age 17 or older and the alleged victim "is under 13 years of age," MCL 750.520b(1)(a), then if you are ultimately convicted you will automatically receive a mandatory minimum of 25 years in Prison. That means exactly what it sounds like – the Guidelines as far as determining the minimum sentence are out the window, and and it’s 25 years behind bars at the least. See MCL 750.520b(2)(b).
RELATED: Concerned about how the "Me Too Movement" could affect your Criminal Sexual Conduct case? Click here to learn what happens when a second accuser surfaces in a CSC case.

  • CONSECUTIVE SENTENCING: Seventh, it is also true that First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct in Michigan is one of a handful of crimes that gives the Judge discretion to impose consecutive sentences with regard to any sentence imposed for "any term of imprisonment imposed for any other criminal offense arising from the same transaction." Normally, the two sentences would be served concurrently, meaning that each day behind bars counts toward the sentence for each crime - if a person is sentenced to serve 15 years for Count 1, Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct and 1 year for Count 2, Fourth Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct, the total time served would be 15 years, not 16. However, for CSC First Degree, if you are also sentenced for other charges / Counts, the Judge has discretion to order that multiple sentences be served consecutively. In he case of the previous example, the Judge could order the 11 years. This is important because whenever someone is facing prosecution for Michigan Sex Crimes, it typically includes more than one charge or “Count." The possible combinations are endless.
RELATED: Click here to learn about the Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Court Process.

  • A WORD OF CAUTION: Finally, it is worth noting that fully understanding the possible penalty for first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Michigan is so complex, and the number of scenarios so numerous, that a full discussion is beyond the scope of this article. Only your Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Lawyer who is familiar intimately with your case can give you accurate information.

Additionally, there are other penalties and collateral consequences that are not addressed here, such as registration on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry (SORA), mandatory lifetime electronic monitoring (tether), and others.

If you or someone you know has been accused of First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct in Michigan, this article should make a few things apparent to you. For one, “life or any term of years“ does not automatically mean that you’ll be spending the rest of your life behind bars. You should also recognize that on the other hand, it could mean that you spend the rest of your life behind bars. At the end of the day, there are almost endless possible scenarios and sentences for First Degree CSC.

At Prain Law, PLLC, we specifically concentrate on defending those accused of Criminal Sexual Conduct and other Michigan Sex Crimes. The best way to deal with any Criminal Sexual Conduct charge is to avoid ever serving any sentence at all by being found NOT GUILTY OF FIRST DEGREE CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONDUCT.

While a plea deal can certainly the one way to put a cap on your sentence, any plea deal for Criminal Sexual Conduct in the First Degree is almost certain to include Jail or Prison time. When that’s what you’re up against, you should strongly consider exercising your constitutional right to a trial. While most criminal defense attorneys avoid taking their client's cases to trial out of fear, Michigan Sex Crimes Defense Attorney Brian J. Prain it is no stranger to the jury trial system. His impressive record of NOT GUILTY victories have earned him a spot in the list of D Business Magazine's Top Lawyers, 2019, the 19 Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Detroit by, Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyers by The National Trial Lawyers, Super Lawyers Magazine, one of the best rated by the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys, and much, much more...

Contact Prain Law, PLLC at (248) 731-4543 or via email using our Contact Form.


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Prain Law, PLLC is focused only on the types charges featured on our website. This helps us deliver the decisive, effective advocacy for which our clients know us. We only serve individuals currently under investigation or who have a current case pending in court. Our firm does not represent injury victims, defendants who have already taken a plea or have been sentenced, or those seeking to expunge a criminal record. We do not respond to anyone who is not involved in a pending investigation or who has a court case for a type of charge we do not handle, but we wish you the very best of luck.