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People v. Wilson

Supreme Court of Michigan

July 25, 2017

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
DWAYNE EDMUND WILSON, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued on application for leave to appeal April 13, 2017

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

         Syllabus

         Dwayne E. Wilson was convicted by a jury in the Macomb Circuit Court, James M. Biernat, Jr., J., of one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), MCL 750.227b, and two counts of unlawful imprisonment, MCL 750.349b. Because defendant had two prior felony-firearm convictions, defendant was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment as a third felony-firearm offender under MCL 750.227b(1), followed by concurrent terms of 100 to 180 months' imprisonment for the unlawful-imprisonment counts. Defendant objected at sentencing, arguing that his felony-firearm sentence was improper because his two prior convictions for felony-firearm arose from a single incident. Defendant cited People v Stewart, 441 Mich. 89 (1992), which held that, in assessing whether a defendant is a third felony-firearm offender under MCL 750.227b, prior felony-firearm convictions must arise out of separate criminal incidents. The circuit court held that Stewart was no longer good law because it relied on People v Preuss, 436 Mich. 714 (1990), which had been overruled by People v Gardner, 482 Mich. 41 (2008), and the court further held that nothing in the language of MCL 750.227b(1) requires the previous felony-firearm convictions to have arisen from separate incidents. Defendant appealed, and the Court of Appeals, Murphy, P.J., and Cavanagh and Ronayne Krause, JJ., reversed and remanded in an unpublished per curiam opinion, issued May 10, 2016 (Docket No. 324856), holding that defendant should have been sentenced as a second felony-firearm offender rather than a third felony-firearm offender because lower courts remain bound by Stewart unless and until the Supreme Court overrules it. The Court of Appeals further held that defendant was entitled to a remand under People v Lockridge, 498 Mich. 358 (2015). The prosecution 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. 500 Mich. 889 (2016).

         In a unanimous opinion by Justice Larsen, the Supreme Court, in lieu of granting leave to appeal, held:

         Under the plain language of MCL 750.227b(1), a defendant convicted of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm) who has two prior felony-firearm convictions is a third felony-firearm offender subject to imprisonment for 10 years, regardless of whether the prior two convictions arose out of the same or separate criminal incidents. People v Stewart, 441 Mich. 89 (1992), was overruled.

         1. MCL 750.227b(1) provides that a person who carries or has in his or her possession a firearm when he or she commits or attempts to commit a felony, except a violation of certain sections of the Penal Code, is guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for 2 years; that upon a second conviction under MCL 750.227b(1), the person shall be punished by imprisonment for 5 years; and that upon a third or subsequent conviction under MCL 750.227b(1), the person shall be punished by imprisonment for 10 years. The Legislature excepted certain convictions from the statute: convictions for violations of MCL 750.223, MCL 750.227, MCL 750.227a, or MCL 750.230 are not to be counted. However, the text contains no similar exception for convictions arising out of the same criminal incident, and the presence of one limitation on the kinds of convictions that are to be counted strongly suggests the absence of others unstated. Furthermore, the text of the felony-firearm statute did not differ in any meaningful way from the habitual-offender statutes that the Supreme Court interpreted in Gardner; while the Court in Gardner emphasized that the language of the habitual-offender statutes "defies the importation of a same-incident test because it states that any combination of convictions must be counted, " Gardner, 482 Mich. at 51, the absence of the "any combination of" language in the felony-firearm statute did not create exceptions otherwise not present in the statute and therefore did not render the statute ambiguous. There is no separate-incidents requirement in either the habitual-offender or felony-firearm statutes, and the Supreme Court erred in Stewart by judicially engrafting a separate-incidents test onto the unambiguous statutory language of the felony-firearm statute. Stewart was wrongly decided.

         2. If a case is wrongly decided, the Court has a duty to consider whether it should remain controlling law by determining whether there has been such reliance on the decision that overruling it would work an undue hardship, whether changes in the law or facts no longer justify the decision, and whether the decision defies practical workability. Stewart is overruled because its reasoning was based entirely on cases that the Supreme Court has since overruled and because the other stare decisis factors were not strong enough to counsel in favor of retaining it. The Court's decision in Gardner undercut any reliance that defendant or others might reasonably have placed on the holding in Stewart. In Gardner, the Court, in construing the habitual-offender statutes, overruled the separate-incidents requirement that had been announced in Preuss and People v Stoudemire, 429 Mich. 262 (1987). Stewart had merely imported the separate-incidents requirement from the habitual-offender context into the felony-firearm statute, and therefore Gardner left Stewart without foundation and defendant on notice that Stewart was on shaky ground. This change in caselaw diminished any reasonable reliance interest defendant or others may have had on Stewart, and the absence of that reliance interest weighed heavily in favor of overruling Stewart. Finally, while the Stewart rule did not defy practical workability, the absence of any reasonable reliance interest coupled with a significant intervening change in caselaw weighed heavily in favor of overruling Stewart.

         Court of Appeals' judgment that defendant should have been sentenced as a second felony-firearm offender reversed; case remanded to the trial court to determine whether it would have imposed a materially different sentence under the sentencing procedure described Lockridge.

         BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH

          OPINION

          Larsen, J.

         Defendant, Dwayne Edmund Wilson, has two prior convictions for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm) arising from a single incident. He has once again been convicted of felony-firearm. May he now be properly sentenced as a third felony-firearm offender under MCL 750.227b(1)? Relying on binding precedent from this Court, see People v Stewart, 441 Mich. 89; 490 N.W.2d 327 (1992), the Court of Appeals answered "no." We now overrule that precedent because nothing in the text of MCL 750.227b(1) requires that a repeat felony-firearm offender's prior felony-firearm convictions arise from separate criminal incidents, and the stare decisis factors do not counsel in favor of retaining the erroneous rule. Accordingly, we reverse, in part, the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Defendant was convicted by a jury of one count of felony-firearm, MCL 750.227b, and two counts of unlawful imprisonment, MCL 750.349b. He was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment as a third felony-firearm offender under MCL 750.227b(1), followed by concurrent terms of 100 to 180 months' imprisonment for the unlawful-imprisonment counts. Defendant objected at sentencing, arguing that his felony-firearm sentence was improper because his previous convictions for felony-firearm arose from a single incident.[1] In support, defendant cited Stewart, which held that, in assessing whether a defendant is a third felony-firearm offender under MCL 750.227b(1), prior felony-firearm convictions must arise out of separate criminal incidents. Stewart, 441 Mich. at 95. The trial court agreed with the prosecution that Stewart was no longer good law because it relied on People v Preuss, 436 Mich. 714; 461 N.W.2d 703 (1990), ...


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