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People v. Comer

Supreme Court of Michigan

June 23, 2017

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JUSTIN TIMOTHY COMER, Defendant-Appellant.

         Syllabus

          Argued on application for leave to appeal January 10, 2017.

          Chief Justice: Stephen J. Markman, Brian K. Zahra Bridget M. McCormack David F. Viviano Richard H. Bernstein Joan L. Larsen Kurtis T. Wilder.

         Justin T. Comer pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct in the first-degree (CSC-I) and second-degree home invasion in the St. Clair Circuit Court. The judge, James P. Adair, sentenced defendant to concurrent prison terms for the two offenses. Defendant's judgment of sentence contained a line to be checked by the court indicating that the defendant would be subject to lifetime electronic monitoring under MCL 750.520n, but the line was not checked, and the court did not otherwise indicate that defendant was subject to lifetime electronic monitoring. Defendant sought leave to appeal in the Court of Appeals, challenging the scoring of several offense variables. In lieu of granting leave to appeal, the Court of Appeals vacated defendant's CSC-I sentence and remanded for resentencing on the basis of a scoring error. The trial court resentenced defendant on October 8, 2012, and the second judgment of sentence also included the same unchecked line referring to lifetime electronic monitoring and omitted any other reference to that punishment. The Michigan Department of Corrections subsequently notified the trial court by letter that, pursuant to People v Brantley, 296 Mich.App. 546 (2012), defendant's sentence should have included lifetime electronic monitoring. The judge, Michael L. West, ruled that defendant's guilty plea was "defective" because defendant had not been advised about lifetime electronic monitoring and rejected defendant's argument that the omission of lifetime electronic monitoring could only be corrected pursuant to a timely motion to correct an invalid sentence. Defendant declined to withdraw his plea, and on April 29, 2013, the trial court signed a new judgment of sentence retaining the term of incarceration previously imposed and adding: "Lifetime GPS upon release from prison." Defendant again sought leave to appeal in the Court of Appeals, which the Court of Appeals denied. Defendant sought leave to appeal in the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration as on leave granted. 497 Mich. 957 (2015). The Court of Appeals held that, pursuant to Brantley, defendant was subject to lifetime electronic monitoring when he was first sentenced, but because defendant's sentence did not include lifetime electronic monitoring, defendant's sentence was invalid. 312 Mich.App. 538 (2015). The Court of Appeals further held that, pursuant to People v Harris, 224 Mich.App. 597 (1997), the trial court was empowered to correct defendant's invalid sentence without time limitation. Judge Gleicher concurred in the result but asserted that Harris was wrongly decided because MCR 6.429 only permits a court to correct an invalid sentence after a party has filed a motion seeking that relief. Defendant sought leave to appeal in the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court ordered and heard oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other action. 499 Mich. 888 (2016).

         In an opinion by Justice Viviano, joined by Chief Justice Markman and Justices McCormack, Bernstein, and Larsen, the Supreme Court, in lieu of granting leave to appeal, held:

         Under MCL 750.520b(2)(d), the punishment of lifetime electronic monitoring must be imposed for all CSC-I sentences when the offender is not imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole under MCL 750.520b(2)(c). Defendant's sentence for CSC-I was invalid because it did not include lifetime electronic monitoring. Under MCR 6.435 and MCR 6.429, a trial court may not correct an invalid sentence on its own initiative after entry of the judgment; the court may only do so upon the proper motion of a party, and Harris is overruled to the extent that it is inconsistent with this conclusion. Because neither party moved to correct defendant's sentence, the trial court erred by adding lifetime electronic monitoring to defendant's sentence on its own initiative 19 months after the original sentence was imposed.

         1. MCL 750.520b(2) sets forth the punishment for CSC-I. MCL 750.520b(2)(a), (b), and (c) detail the penalties to be imposed depending on the circumstances of the case. Under MCL 750.520b(2)(d), in addition to any other penalty imposed under Subdivision (a) or (b), the court shall sentence the defendant to lifetime electronic monitoring under MCL 750.520n. MCL 750.520n(1) provides that a person convicted under MCL 750.520b or MCL 750.520c for criminal sexual conduct committed by an individual 17 years old or older against an individual less than 13 years of age shall be sentenced to lifetime electronic monitoring as provided under MCL 791.285. Therefore, under MCL 750.520b(2)(d), the trial court shall sentence a defendant to lifetime electronic monitoring as provided by MCL 750.520n in addition to any other penalty imposed under MCL 750.520b(2)(a) or (b). The disjunctive term "or" signals that there are two circumstances in which lifetime electronic monitoring must be imposed under MCL 750.520b(2). Lifetime electronic monitoring must be imposed (1) when a defendant receives a sentence of life in prison or any term of years under MCL 750.520b(2)(a); or (2) when a defendant also receives a mandatory minimum sentence under MCL 750.520b(2)(b) because the crime was committed by an individual 17 years of age or older against an individual less than 13 years of age. Thus, the Legislature has mandated lifetime electronic monitoring for all CSC-I sentences except when the defendant is sentenced to life without the possibility of parole under MCL 750.520b(2)(c). To conclude that lifetime electronic monitoring is limited only to sentences imposed under MCL 750.520b(2)(b) would impermissibly render the Legislature's reference in MCL 750.520b(2)(d) to "any other penalty imposed under subdivision (a)" nugatory. Moreover, reading MCL 750.520b(2)(d) in the context of the entire legislative scheme demonstrates the Legislature's intent to mandate lifetime electronic monitoring for all CSC-I sentences when the defendant has not been sentenced to life without parole. In this case, defendant pleaded guilty to CSC-I under MCL 750.520b(1)(c) for sexual penetration occurring under circumstances involving the commission of another felony, and the punishment for that offense is (1) imprisonment for life or for any term of years and (2) mandatory lifetime electronic monitoring. The Court of Appeals correctly determined that defendant's sentence was invalid because defendant's judgment of sentence did not include the statutorily mandated punishment of lifetime electronic monitoring.

         2. MCR 6.435 provides the general rule regarding a court's ability to correct mistakes in judgments and orders. MCR 6.435(A) provides that clerical mistakes in judgments, orders, or other parts of the record and errors arising from oversight or omission may be corrected by the court at any time on its own initiative or on motion of a party, and after notice if the court orders it. In this case, the failure to sentence defendant to lifetime electronic monitoring was a substantive mistake, not a clerical mistake. MCR 6.435(B) provides that after giving the parties an opportunity to be heard, and provided it has not yet entered judgment in the case, the court may reconsider and modify, correct, or rescind any order it concludes was erroneous. MCR 6.435(B) permits a trial court to act on its own initiative to correct substantive mistakes in a sentence, but only if it has not yet entered judgment. MCR 6.429(A), the court rule outlining the court's authority to modify a sentence, provides that a motion to correct an invalid sentence may be filed by either party and that the court may correct an invalid sentence, but the court may not modify a valid sentence after it has been imposed except as provided by law. MCR 6.429(B) outlines the time for filing such a motion. In cases where, as here, a defendant may only appeal by leave, MCR 6.429(B)(3) provides that either party has six months from the entry of judgment of sentence to file a motion to correct an invalid sentence. Importantly, MCR 6.429 is conspicuously silent on the court's authority to correct an invalid sentence sua sponte, and when considered against the backdrop of the general rule, MCR 6.435(B), the silence is telling. Additionally, interpreting MCR 6.429 as authorizing trial courts to correct invalid sentences sua sponte would render the time limitation in MCR 6.429(B)(3) a mere formality. Therefore, when considering MCR 6.435 and MCR 6.429 together, the trial court's authority to correct an invalid sentence on its own initiative ends upon entry of the judgment of sentence. An invalid sentence may be corrected only upon the timely filing of a motion to correct an invalid sentence in accordance with MCR 6.429, and Harris is overruled to the extent that it was inconsistent with this conclusion. In this case, defendant's sentence was invalid because it did not include the statutorily mandated punishment of lifetime electronic monitoring, and the trial court improperly ordered a hearing on its own initiative, after which it added lifetime electronic monitoring to defendant's sentence. Under MCR 6.435 and MCR 6.429, the trial court lacked the authority to correct defendant's invalid sentence absent a motion from one of the parties. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals erred when it affirmed the trial court's correction of defendant's invalid sentence.

         Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the April 29, 2013 judgment of sentence vacated; case remanded to the trial court to reinstate the October 8, 2012 judgment of sentence.

         Justice Zahra, joined by Justice Wilder, concurring in part and dissenting in part, agreed with the majority's holding that defendant's sentence was invalid because MCL 750.520b(2)(d) required the trial court to sentence defendant to lifetime electronic monitoring and also agreed with the majority's conclusion that the trial court lacked authority to correct defendant's invalid sentence. Justice Zahra disagreed with the majority's remedy because it did not address the significant constitutional concerns regarding whether defendant's plea was involuntary: because defendant was not made aware that mandatory lifetime electronic monitoring was a direct consequence of the plea, defendant's plea was not constitutionally valid, and any action taken to redress errors in defendant's sentence predicated on that invalid plea would be premature. Additionally, specific performance of an invalid sentence would be inappropriate because the court rules provide no basis for such a remedy. Instead of reinstating an invalid sentence that was predicated on an invalid plea, Justice Zahra would have concluded that the appropriate remedy was to give defendant the opportunity to elect to allow the plea and sentence to stand or to withdraw the plea.

         BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH

          OPINION

          VIVIANO, J.

         We address whether the trial court's failure to impose lifetime electronic monitoring as a part of defendant's sentence for criminal sexual conduct in the first-degree (CSC-I) rendered defendant's sentence invalid and, if so, whether the trial court could correct the invalid sentence on its own initiative 19 months after the original judgment of sentence had entered. We hold that defendant's sentence was invalid because MCL 750.520b(2)(d) required the trial court to sentence defendant to lifetime electronic monitoring. We further hold that under MCR 6.435 and MCR 6.429, the trial court erred by correcting defendant's invalid sentence on its own initiative absent a motion from either party. In lieu of granting leave to appeal, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals in part, reverse in part, vacate the April 29, 2013 judgment of sentence, and remand this case to the trial court to reinstate the October 8, 2012 judgment of sentence.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In 2011, defendant, Justin Comer, was charged with CSC-I and first-degree home invasion stemming from an incident involving a 48-year-old woman. He pleaded guilty to CSC-I and second-degree home invasion. On October 3, 2011, former St. Clair Circuit Court Judge James Adair sentenced defendant to concurrent prison terms of 51 months to 18 years for the CSC-I conviction and 51 months to 15 years for the second-degree home invasion conviction. The judgment of sentence included a line to be checked by the trial court, indicating: "The defendant is subject to lifetime monitoring under MCL 750.520n." This line was not checked, and the trial court did not otherwise indicate that defendant was subject to lifetime electronic monitoring.

         Defendant sought leave to appeal in the Court of Appeals, challenging the scoring of several offense variables. In lieu of granting leave to appeal, the Court of Appeals vacated defendant's CSC-I sentence and remanded for resentencing based on a scoring error.[1] Thereafter, on October 8, 2012, Judge Adair resentenced defendant, reducing his minimum sentence for both convictions to 42 months. The second judgment of sentence also included the same unchecked line referring to lifetime electronic monitoring and omitted any other reference to that punishment.

         On January 29, 2013, the Michigan Department of Corrections notified the trial court by letter that, pursuant to People v Brantley, [2] defendant's sentence should have included lifetime electronic monitoring. Defendant objected, arguing that Brantley did not apply and that the prosecution's failure to bring a motion to correct defendant's sentence precluded resentencing. At a hearing on April 29, 2013, Judge Adair's successor, Judge Michael West, ruled that defendant's guilty plea was "defective" because defendant was not advised about lifetime electronic monitoring. Judge West declared that he would not proceed further with the plea being defective. He rejected defendant's argument that the omission of lifetime electronic monitoring could only be corrected pursuant to a timely motion to correct an invalid sentence.[3] The trial court offered defendant an opportunity to withdraw his plea or to allow the plea to stand while acceding to the lifetime electronic monitoring requirement. Defendant declined to withdraw his plea. Thereafter, the trial court signed a new judgment of sentence retaining the term of incarceration previously imposed and adding: "Lifetime GPS upon release from prison."[4]

         Defendant again sought leave to appeal. After the Court of Appeals denied defendant's delayed application for leave to appeal, [5] we remanded the case to that Court for consideration as on leave granted.[6] On remand, the Court of Appeals affirmed defendant's sentence in a published opinion.[7] Bound by Brantley, the Court of Appeals held that defendant was subject to lifetime electronic monitoring when he was first sentenced in 2011.[8] Because defendant's sentence did not include lifetime electronic monitoring, the Court of Appeals concluded that his sentence was invalid.[9] Next, the Court of Appeals addressed whether the trial court had the authority to correct defendant's sentence. Relying on its prior decision in People v Harris, [10] the Court of Appeals held that "the trial court was empowered to correct defendant's invalid sentence without time limitation."[11]

         Judge Gleicher concurred in the result but asserted that Harris was wrongly decided because, in her view, MCR 6.429 only permits a court to correct an invalid sentence after a party has filed a motion seeking that relief.[12] She noted that no such motion had been filed by either party.[13] But for Harris, she would have held that the trial court lacked the authority to correct the mistake in defendant's sentence.[14]

         Defendant sought leave to appeal in this Court. We scheduled oral argument on the application, directing the parties to address:

(1) whether the defendant's original sentence for first-degree criminal sexual conduct was rendered invalid because it did not include lifetime electronic monitoring, pursuant to MCL 750.520b(2)(d), i.e., whether MCL 750.520n requires that the defendant, who pled guilty to MCL 750.520b(1)(c), be sentenced to lifetime electronic monitoring, compare People v Brantley, 296 Mich.App. 546[, 823 N.W.2d 290');">823 N.W.2d 290] (2012), with People v King, 297 Mich.App. 465[, 824 N.W.2d 258');">824 N.W.2d 258] (2012); and (2) if so, whether the trial court was authorized to amend the defendant's judgment of sentence on the court's own initiative twenty months after the original sentencing, in the absence of a motion filed by any party. See MCR 6.429; MCR 6.435.[15]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The proper interpretation and application of statutes and court rules is a question of law, which this Court reviews de novo.[16] When interpreting statutes, we begin with the statute's plain language.[17] In doing so, we examine the statute as a whole, reading individual words and phrases in the context of the entire legislative scheme.[18] We must give effect to every word, phrase, and clause and avoid an interpretation that would render any part surplusage or nugatory.[19] When the statute's language is unambiguous, the statute must be enforced as written.[20] These same legal principles govern the interpretation of court rules.[21]

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. DEFENDANT IS SUBJECT TO LIFETIME ELECTRONIC MONITORING

         We first address whether defendant is subject to lifetime electronic monitoring by virtue of his CSC-I conviction for a sexual penetration that occurred under circumstances involving the commission of another felony. Punishment for this offense is governed by MCL 750.520b(2), which provides:

(2) Criminal sexual conduct in the first degree is a felony punishable as follows:
(a)Except as provided in subdivisions (b) and (c), by imprisonment for life or for any term of years.
(b)For a violation that is committed by an individual 17 years of age or older against an individual less than 13 years of age by imprisonment for life or any term of years, but not less than 25 years.
(c)For a violation that is committed by an individual 18 years of age or older against an individual less than 13 years of age, by imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole if the person was previously convicted of a violation of this section or section 520c, 520d, 520e, or 520g committed against an individual less than 13 years of age or a violation of law of the United States, another state or political subdivision substantially corresponding to a violation of this section or section 520c, 520d, 520e, or 520g committed against an individual less than 13 years of age.
(d) In addition to any other penalty imposed under subdivision (a) or (b), the court shall sentence the defendant to lifetime electronic monitoring under section 520n.

         MCL 750.520n addresses lifetime electronic monitoring. Subsection (1) provides:

A person convicted under section 520b or 520c for criminal sexual conduct committed by an individual 17 years old or older against an individual less than 13 years of age shall be sentenced to lifetime electronic monitoring as provided under section 85 of the corrections code of 1953, 1953 PA 232, MCL 791.285.

         We begin, as we must, with the statutory language. Section 520b(2) governs the punishment imposed for all persons convicted of CSC-I. The first three subdivisions address the terms of imprisonment imposed for CSC-I. Generally, CSC-I is punishable by imprisonment for life or any term of years, [22] with two exceptions. Under the first exception, CSC-I offenses committed by an individual 17 years of age or older against an individual less than 13 years of age are also subject to a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence.[23] The second exception, which is not at issue here, specifies that certain repeat offenders must be imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole.[24]

         In addition to imprisonment, the Legislature has imposed lifetime electronic monitoring as an additional punishment for a CSC-I conviction.[25] Under § 520b(2)(d), the trial court shall sentence a defendant to lifetime electronic monitoring as provided by § 520n "[i]n addition to any other penalty imposed under subdivision (a) or (b) . . . ."[26]The disjunctive term "or" signals that there are two circumstances in which lifetime electronic monitoring must be imposed under MCL 750.520b(2).[27] Lifetime electronic monitoring must be imposed (1) when a defendant receives a sentence of life in prison or any term of years under § 520b(2)(a); or (2) when a defendant also receives a mandatory minimum sentence under § 520b(2)(b) because the crime was "committed by an individual 17 years of age or older against an individual less than 13 years of age." Thus, the Legislature has mandated lifetime electronic monitoring for all CSC-I sentences except when the defendant is sentenced to life without the possibility of parole under § 520b(2)(c).[28] To conclude otherwise, as defendant urges, and limit lifetime electronic monitoring only to sentences imposed under § 520b(2)(b) would impermissibly render the Legislature's reference in § 520b(2)(d) to "any other penalty imposed under subdivision (a)" nugatory.[29]

         Reading § 520b(2)(d) in the context of the entire legislative scheme similarly demonstrates the Legislature's intent to mandate lifetime electronic monitoring for all CSC-I sentences in which the defendant has not been sentenced to life without parole. Section 520b(2)(d) is located in Chapter LXXVI of the Michigan Penal Code, MCL 750.1 et seq. This chapter is titled "Rape" and sets forth the elements and punishments for offenses involving criminal sexual conduct. Immediately following § 520b is § 520c, which addresses criminal sexual conduct in the second degree (CSC-II). Similar to sentences for CSC-I, the Legislature has also mandated that courts impose lifetime electronic monitoring as part of CSC-II sentences, albeit in more limited circumstances. The relevant provision, MCL 750.520c(2)(b), provides:

In addition to the penalty specified in subdivision (a), the court shall sentence the defendant to lifetime electronic monitoring under section 520n if the violation involved sexual contact committed by an individual 17 years of age or older against an individual less than 13 years of age.

         Under this provision, lifetime electronic monitoring is only mandated for CSC-II convictions when the offender was 17 years of age or older and the victim was less than 13 years of age. In contrast, § 520b contains no such limitation. Because the Legislature has specifically limited lifetime electronic monitoring for CSC-II offenders to sentences arising from specific age-based offenses, we will not read an identical limitation into § 520b where the Legislature did not see fit to include it.[30]

         Finally, we note that in analyzing this issue, lower courts and the parties in this case have focused extensively on when lifetime electronic monitoring may be imposed under § 520n(1).[31] Their arguments have primarily been concerned with the effect of the modifying phrase "for criminal sexual conduct committed by an individual 17 years old or older against an individual less than 13 years of age" in § 520n(1). We reject defendant's invitation to read this phrase as restricting lifetime electronic monitoring to CSC-I and CSC-II sentences for offenses committed by an individual 17 years of age or older against an individual less than 13 years of age. Generally, a modifying clause is confined solely to the last antecedent unless a contrary intention appears.[32] There is no such intention here. Applying this general rule to determine that the age limitation only applies to convictions for CSC-II is entirely consistent with the statutory analysis above. Instead, it is defendant's reading that fails to give effect to every phrase and clause in the statutory scheme. In addition to rendering part of § 520b(2)(d) nugatory, interpreting § 520n(1) to add an age limitation to both § 520b and § 520c would improperly render the specific age limitation in § 520c(2)(b) surplusage.[33] Therefore, we hold that under § 520b(2)(d), lifetime electronic monitoring must be imposed for all defendants convicted of CSC-I except where the defendant has been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole under § 520b(2)(c).

         Turning to this case, defendant pleaded guilty to CSC-I under § 520b(1)(c) for sexual penetration occurring under circumstances involving the commission of another felony. The punishment for this offense is: (1) imprisonment for life or for any term of years and (2) mandatory lifetime electronic monitoring.[34] Consequently, the trial court was required to impose lifetime electronic monitoring. Because defendant's judgment of sentence did not include this statutorily mandated punishment, we agree with the Court of Appeals that his sentence was invalid.[35]

         B. THE TRIAL COURT COULD NOT AMEND DEFENDANT'S SENTENCE ON ITS OWN INITIATIVE

         Having determined that defendant's sentence was invalid, we next address whether the trial court was authorized to amend defendant's judgment of sentence on its own ...


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