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People v. Jose

Court of Appeals of Michigan

December 13, 2016

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
TERRENCE LAMONTT JOSE, Defendant-Appellant.

         Oakland Circuit Court LC No. 2009-227492-FC

          Before: Saad, P.J., and Meter and Murray, JJ.

          MURRAY, J.

         Defendant was granted leave to appeal[1] the June 3, 2015 order of the Oakland circuit court that denied defendant's motion to vacate an August 14, 2014 order, requiring defendant to reimburse Oakland County for the costs of assigned counsel. We reverse the June 3, 2015 order and remand for the trial court to enter an order vacating the August 14, 2014 order, as defendant is not required to reimburse the county for attorney fees.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Following a jury trial defendant was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Defendant was accused of digitally penetrating his 5-year-old daughter, who lived with defendant's former girlfriend. There was no physical evidence of penetration, and defendant denied the accusations and argued that his former girlfriend convinced the child to falsely accuse him. Defendant's trial counsel attempted to bring out the fact that the former girlfriend was still bitter about breaking up with defendant, but unsuccessfully attempted to confront her with hostile cellular telephone text messages that she apparently sent to defendant. On cross-examination the former girlfriend simply denied sending defendant any text messages, and defendant's trial counsel did not obtain any of her telephone records in advance of trial and never managed to get the text messages admitted into evidence.

         Defendant appealed his conviction, and moved to remand his case for a Ginther[2] hearing, which this Court granted on January 2, 2013.[3] The circuit court granted defendant's motion for a new trial, concluding that trial counsel's failure to properly authenticate the hostile text messages and get them admitted as evidence denied defendant the effective assistance of trial counsel.[4]We subsequently denied the prosecutor's application for leave to appeal, [5] as did our Supreme Court.[6]

         On February 25, 2014, the circuit court appointed lawyer Todd Kaluzny to represent defendant on retrial. Relevant to this appeal, the order states "that defendant is to repay the County of Oakland for any costs for a court-appointed attorney and any other costs incurred by the county in this case." The prosecutor subsequently decided not to proceed with a retrial and voluntarily dismissed the charge, which is reflected in the circuit court docket entries by a "final nolle prosequi" on August 7, 2014, and the filing of an "order - nolle prosequi" on December 5, 2014. Importantly, on August 14, 2014, the circuit court entered an order paying defendant's appointed trial counsel $900 for the work he performed representing defendant before retrial.

         Although defendant was free from criminal charges and released from custody, he received notices stating that he owed the county $900 for the cost of his court-appointed counsel. Relying upon MCL 768.34, defendant moved to vacate the circuit court's order requiring that he reimburse the county for the cost of his court-appointed counsel, arguing that someone who had charges dismissed through nolle prosequi was not required to reimburse the county for the fees of appointed counsel. The circuit court denied defendant's motion.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Defendant's sole argument is that, pursuant to the plain language of MCL 768.34, the trial court erred by refusing to vacate its order requiring defendant to reimburse the county for the cost of his appointed counsel. Defendant presents a preserved issue of statutory interpretation that we review de novo. People v Hartwick, 498 Mich. 192, 209; 870 N.W.2d 37 (2015).

         Both parties agree that defendant's claim requires interpretation of a statute. As our Supreme Court stated in People v Miller, 498 Mich. 13, 22-23; 869 N.W.2d 204 (2015):

As with any statutory interpretation, we must give effect to the Legislature's intent by focusing first on the statute's plain language. When statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we assume that the Legislature intended its plain meaning ...

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