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People v. Winters

Court of Appeals of Michigan

July 18, 2017

GEORGE WILLIAM WINTERS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Mason Circuit Court LC No. 14-002895-FC

          Before: Markey, P.J., and Ronayne Krause and Boonstra, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         Defendant appeals by leave granted[1] his plea-based conviction of second-degree arson, MCL 750.73(1) (willful or malicious burning of a dwelling), and attempted arson, MCL 750.92 (attempt). The trial court sentenced defendant as a third habitual offender, MCL 769.11, to serve concurrent prison terms of eight to 40 years for the arson conviction and two years and 10 months to 10 years for the attempted arson conviction. Defendant's convictions stem from his burning and attempted burning of tents located at a homeless campsite. We affirm.

         Defendant's appeal is focused on the circumstances surrounding his entry of a no contest plea. MCR 6.302 governs guilty and no contest plea proceedings. People v Blanton, 317 Mich.App. 107, 118; 894 N.W.2d 613 (2016). Pursuant to the court rule, a "court may not accept a plea of guilty or nolo contendere unless it is convinced that the plea is understanding, voluntary, and accurate. Before accepting a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, the court must place the defendant or defendants under oath and personally carry out subrules (B)-(E)." MCR 6.302(A). Defendant argues that he should have been allowed to withdraw his plea because the trial court did not comply with subrules (B)(2) and (B)(3). Defendant raised these same arguments below in a motion to withdraw his plea, which the court denied. We review the court's decision for an abuse of discretion. See People v Cole, 491 Mich. 325, 329; 817 N.W.2d 497 (2012). A trial court abuses it discretion when its decision "results in an outcome falling outside the principled range of outcomes." People v Carnicom, 272 Mich.App. 614, 617; 727 N.W.2d 399 (2006).

         While strict compliance with MCR 6.302 is not essential, our Supreme Court has applied the doctrine of substantial compliance-whether a particular departure from MCR 6.302 requires reversal or remand for additional proceedings will depend on the nature of the noncompliance. People v Plumaj, 284 Mich.App. 645, 649; 773 N.W.2d 763 (2009). This Court must consider the record as a whole to determine whether a guilty plea was made knowingly and voluntarily." Id.

         MCR 6.302(B)(2) provides that a defendant offering to plead guilty or nolo contendere be informed of "the maximum possible prison sentence for the offense and any mandatory minimum sentence required by law, including a requirement for mandatory lifetime electronic monitoring under MCL 750.520b or 750.520c[.]" "[W]hen a defendant is subject to an enhanced sentence as an habitual offender, that enhanced sentence is part of the maximum prison sentence described in MCR 6.302(B)(2)." People v Brown, 492 Mich. 684, 701; 822 N.W.2d 208 (2012). Defendant asserts, and plaintiff agrees, that he was misinformed by the court about the possible sentencing facing him if he entered a plea to attempted arson. Specifically, he was told that his maximum term of imprisonment for the attempted arson charge was 20 years when the correct maximum was 10 years.[2] Defendant argues that given this error, he did not understand the consequences of his plea.

         "[A] defendant entering a plea must be fully aware of the direct consequences of the plea." Cole, 491 Mich. at 333 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "The most obvious direct consequence of a conviction is the penalty to be imposed. It is, therefore, well-recognized that the defendant must be apprised of the sentence that he will be forced to serve as the result of his guilty plea and conviction." Id. at 334 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). This principle is embodied in MCR 6.302(B)(2).

         But a misstatement of the maximum possible sentence does not require reversal where no prejudice is shown. People v Broden, 147 Mich.App. 470, 472; 382 N.W.2d 799 (1985), rev'd on other grounds 428 Mich. 343 (1987) (involving a challenge under GCR 1963, 785.7(1)(b)[3] to a plea-based conviction). See also In re Guilty Plea Cases, 395 Mich. 96, 113; 235 N.W.2d 132 (1975) ("Noncompliance with a requirement of Rule 785.7[4] may but does not necessarily require reversal."). Because defendant was not told that he was facing a sentence less than what it actually was, he cannot show that he was prejudiced. See People v Shannon, 134 Mich.App. 35, 38; 349 N.W.2d 813 (1984) (holding that there was no possibility the defendant was prejudiced when he was told the maximum possible penalty was greater than it actually was).

         The Due Process Clause requires that pleas be knowing and voluntary because a "no-contest or a guilty plea constitutes a waiver of several constitutional rights." Cole, 491 Mich. at 332-333. MCR 6.302(B)(3) speaks to what constitutionally protected trial rights a defendant must be told he or she will be relinquishing if his or her plea is accepted:

Speaking directly to the defendant or defendants, the court must advise the defendant or defendants of the following and determine that each defendant understands:
(3) if the plea is accepted, the defendant will not have a trial of any kind, and so gives up the rights the defendant would have at a trial, including the right:
(a) to be tried by a jury;
(b) to be presumed innocent until proved ...

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