TRAVERSE CITY — The hardest part of her year, Samantha Hughes told the court, wasn’t the 13- to 24-month jail sentence Judge Thomas Power set based on her due date.
Nor was it giving birth behind bars.
It was seeing her newborn daughter taken away days later.
“Going through being separated from her, after three days of her being born, was the worst thing I’ve ever been through. It was an experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” Hughes told 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer, who on Friday offered the 29-year-old a new sentence and an end to a months-long appeal.
Hughes served 352 days of her original sentence after pleading guilty to cutting off a court-ordered tether in late 2018. She was on probation for methamphetamine use at the time.
She filed appeal, and her request was answered — the Michigan Court of Appeals opted on July 9 to reverse Power’s ruling and free Hughes from prison. Her case was referred to a new 13th Circuit Court judge for resentencing.
The news came days after her daughter’s birth.
On Friday, that resentencing fell before Judge Kevin Elsenheimer, who granted Hughes freedom with a sentence of time served. He also waived several fines so she could “put her best foot forward” and support her daughter and other children.
It comes in the wake of an appellate court decision that called her initial sentence “constitutionally inappropriate,” “prejudicial” and exemplifying “extreme bias” — not for its length, but for Power’s motivation in setting it.
The 13th Circuit Court judge told the court his intent was keeping Hughes drug-free — in prison — until giving birth to ensure the infant’s health.
Appellate Judges Kathleen Jansen and Jane Beckering suggested in the July decision that Power may have imposed a “different or lesser” sentence had Hughes not been pregnant, and said the judge faltered by not focusing primarily on proportionality to Hughes’ crime.
A third appellate judge dissented, arguing the range was proportionate regardless of Power’s motivations and well in-line with Hughes’ long list or priors.
Hughes’ online 86th District Court records note appearances for retail fraud, attempted destruction of police property, attempted assault or obstruction of a police officer, use of methamphetamine and several instances of driving without a license or without insurance.
Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg told the court that the prosecution would have liked to see Hughes complete her original sentence.
“It was within the guidelines,” Moeggenberg said. “However, now that she’s been out of prison, I don’t have an objection to the recommendations.”
She did not return a call for further comment Friday.
Elsenheimer noted in court Hughes’ efforts to improve her circumstances in jail, like completing her GED and participating in programs on substance abuse and domestic violence.
Her newborn daughter babbled and fussed in the courtroom gallery during Friday’s proceedings.
“Going through that experience gave me insight on changing my actions to make the future better,” Hughes said. “I never spent more than two days away from my kids until this sentence.”
Hughes and her Attorney Jordan Leff both declined comment after the Friday hearing. They left the courtroom flanked by Hughes’ family.
“That’s the most important thing in my life — my kids,” she told the court. “And I’m grateful to be back with them.”