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People v. McBurrows

Court of Appeals of Michigan

December 19, 2017

ROMON BERRY MCBURROWS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Monroe Circuit Court LC No. 17-243452-FC

          Before: Talbot, C.J., and Borrello and Riordan, JJ.

          Borrello, J.

         In this interlocutory appeal, defendant appeals by leave granted[1] the trial court's order denying his motion to dismiss. Defendant argued in the trial court as well as on appeal that the trial court lacked "jurisdiction."[2] Defendant is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance causing death (fentanyl), MCL 750.317a. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we reverse and remand the matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of the drug-related death of Nicholas Abraham. On December 12, 2016, Nicholas called William Ingall to tell Ingall that he was coming over because he wanted to get some heroin. Later that night, they traveled together in Nicholas's pickup truck to a house in Detroit to procure heroin from defendant. Once they arrived in the area, Ingall called defendant's cell phone and informed defendant that he wanted to "get some heroin." Nicholas gave Ingall $100, and he waited in his pickup truck while Ingall left and purchased heroin from defendant inside a nearby house. Ingall gave defendant $100, and defendant gave Ingall heroin that was wrapped up in paper.

          Subsequently, Ingall returned to Nicholas's truck with the heroin, and they went to a nearby laundromat where they used the heroin. Ingall used approximately $20 worth of the heroin, and Nicholas used approximately $10 worth of the heroin. According to Ingall, the heroin "was really strong, " and it "wasn't real bitter like the heroin would [sic] be." After Ingall noticed the strength of the heroin, he told Nicholas "to be careful with it."

         Nicholas dropped Ingall off at Ingall's house and then went home. Nicholas lived in Monroe County with his wife, Michelle Abraham. After getting home at approximately 10:00 p.m. that evening, Nicholas put down two lines of heroin on a table and told Michelle to snort the heroin. Michelle passed out after she used the heroin. When she regained consciousness, she discovered that Nicholas was not breathing and tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him. Nicholas was pronounced dead during the early morning hours of December 13, 2016. An autopsy was subsequently performed by Dr. Leigh Hlavaty of the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office, who opined that Nicholas's death was caused by fentanyl toxicity. According to Detective Michael McClain of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office Vice Unit, fentanyl is sometimes used by heroin dealers as "a cutting agent to make the heroin more potent."

         Defendant was charged with one count of delivery of fentanyl causing death and was bound over to the Monroe Circuit Court following his preliminary examination. Defendant subsequently moved to dismiss the prosecution's case on the ground that the trial court lacked "jurisdiction." Defendant contended that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over him because the only "act" that he allegedly committed-the delivery of fentanyl-occurred in Wayne County, and he did not commit any act in Monroe County since Nicholas's death was not an "act" committed by defendant.

         A hearing was held on defendant's motion, and the trial court denied the motion. The trial court ruled that defendant could be tried in either Wayne County or Monroe County because elements of the charged offense occurred in both of those counties. The trial court further reasoned that venue was authorized in Monroe County because a "mortal wound" was inflicted by means of the drug transaction, which resulted in a death in Monroe County.

         We granted defendant's application for leave to appeal, as well as his motion to stay the proceedings pending resolution of this appeal.[3]

         As a threshold matter, we note that although defendant has characterized his challenge as one involving the trial court's "jurisdiction, " the question presented in this appeal is actually whether venue was properly laid in Monroe County. "Jurisdiction is the power [of a court] to act." People v Johnson, 427 Mich. 98, 106 n 7; 398 N.W.2d 219 (1986) (opinion by Boyle, J.) (quotation marks and citations omitted; alteration in original). "Michigan circuit courts are courts of general jurisdiction and unquestionably have jurisdiction over felony cases." People v Lown, 488 Mich. 242, 268; 794 N.W.2d 9 (2011), citing Const 1963, art 6, §§ 1 and 13, MCL 600.151, MCL 600.601, and MCL 767.1. However, venue refers to the location, or forum, in which the trial is to be held. See Gross v Gen Motors Corp, 448 Mich. 147, 156; 528 N.W.2d 707 (1995); People v Webbs, 263 Mich.App. 531, 533; 689 N.W.2d 163 (2004). Therefore, defendant's appellate argument that the trial court erred because Monroe County is not a proper county in which to try this case is clearly a venue challenge.[4]


         "A trial court's determination regarding the existence of venue in a criminal prosecution is reviewed de novo." People v Houthoofd, 487 Mich. 568, 579; 790 N.W.2d 315 (2010). "Venue is a part of every criminal prosecution and must be proved by the prosecutor beyond a reasonable doubt." Webbs, 263 Mich.App. at 533. "A trial court's ruling addressing a motion to dismiss is reviewed for an abuse of discretion." People v Lewis, 302 Mich.App. 338, 341; 839 N.W.2d 37 (2013). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court chooses an outcome falling outside the range of principled outcomes." Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Issues involving statutory interpretation are reviewed de novo. Houthoofd, 487 Mich. at 579. "The primary purpose of a court when construing a statute is to discern and give effect to the Legislature's intent." People v Rivera, 301 Mich.App. 188, 192; 835 N.W.2d 464 (2013). "We begin by examining the plain language of the statute; where that language is unambiguous, we presume that the Legislature intended the meaning clearly expressed-no further judicial construction is required or permitted, and the statute must be enforced as written." People v Williams, 475 Mich. 245, 250; 716 N.W.2d 208 (2006) (quotation marks and citation omitted). The words in a statute ...

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