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People v. Williams

Court of Appeals of Michigan

May 23, 2019

DONALD WILLIE WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Macomb Circuit Court LC No. 1993-001791-FC

          Before: Redford, P.J., and Markey and K. F. Kelly, JJ.

          MARKEY, J.

         Defendant, a juvenile lifer, appeals by delayed leave granted[1] the trial court's order granting in part and denying in part his motion for approval of public funds to hire "mitigation" experts for his resentencing hearing. Defendant had requested expert witness funding in the amount of $42, 650. The trial court awarded him $2, 500, but it did not articulate how it arrived at that figure. We vacate the order and remand for further proceedings.

         The prosecutor sought to resentence defendant to life imprisonment without parole (LWOP) for his 1993 jury trial conviction of first-degree felony murder, MCL 750.316(1)(b), which he committed as an aider and abettor in 1993 at age 16. See People v Williams, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued February 14, 1997 (Docket No. 176570), p 1. Defendant was sentenced as an adult in 1994 to mandatory LWOP for the first-degree murder conviction. Id.

         In People v Hayes, 323 Mich.App. 470, 473-474; 917 N.W.2d 748 (2018), this Court explained the recent evolution in the law regarding the treatment of juveniles who committed murder and face or received sentences of LWOP:

In Miller v Alabama, 567 U.S. 460; 132 S.Ct. 2455; 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), the United States Supreme Court held that mandatory punishment of life in prison absent the possibility of parole for a defendant who was under the age of 18 at the time of the sentencing offense violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. The Miller Court did not indicate whether its decision was to be retroactively applied to closed cases involving juvenile offenders. In light of Miller, the Michigan Legislature enacted MCL 769.25, which provides a procedural framework for sentencing juvenile offenders who have committed offenses punishable by life imprisonment without the possibility of parole; this provision applied to pending and future cases. Anticipating the possibility of Miller's retroactive application for closed cases, the Legislature also enacted MCL 769.25a, which would be triggered if our Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court were to hold that Miller applied retroactively. And subsequently, in Montgomery v Louisiana, 577 U.S.; 136 S.Ct. 718; 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016), the United States Supreme Court held that the rule announced in Miller, which was a new substantive constitutional rule, was retroactive on state collateral review. Accordingly, MCL 769.25a took effect.

         Under MCL 769.25a(4)(b), prosecutors are directed to "file motions for resentencing in all cases in which the prosecuting attorney will be requesting the court to impose a sentence of imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole." MCL 769.25a(4)(b) further states that a hearing on the motion must be conducted as provided in MCL 769.25. And MCL 769.25 provides in pertinent part:

(6) If the prosecuting attorney files a motion . . ., the court shall conduct a hearing on the motion as part of the sentencing process. At the hearing, the trial court shall consider the factors listed in Miller . . ., and may consider any other criteria relevant to its decision, including the individual's record while incarcerated.
(7) At the hearing under subsection (6), the court shall specify on the record the aggravating and mitigating circumstances considered by the court and the court's reasons supporting the sentence imposed. The court may consider evidence presented at trial together with any evidence presented at the sentencing hearing.

         Here, on July 6, 2016, the prosecutor filed a motion pursuant to MCL 769.25a(4)(b), requesting that defendant be again sentenced to LWOP. Defendant opposed the prosecutor's motion and sought dismissal of the motion on various grounds that are not relevant to this appeal. Defendant also filed a motion for the approval of public funds to hire experts. Defendant argued that he needed experts to analyze the Miller factors, including experts with specialized knowledge in adolescent development.[2] Defendant refers to these experts at times as "mitigation specialists." The trial court granted in part and denied in part defendant's motion. The court stated that defendant was entitled to financial assistance to pay for expert witnesses but found that his request for $42, 650 was "highly excess[ive]." The trial court ruled that $2, 500 would be made available to defendant to retain expert witnesses in connection with his resentencing. The court did not explain how it arrived at that sum.[3]

         On appeal, defendant argues that the trial court erred in limiting expert funding to $2, 500. The prosecution agrees, acknowledging that the trial court's decision was "arbitrary" and that the court's action in "foreclosing any potential increase to the fee was an abuse of discretion." There is no dispute between the parties that defendant is constitutionally entitled to some level of funding for mitigation experts. Indeed, in People v Carp, 496 Mich. 440, 473; 852 N.W.2d 801 (2014), our Supreme Court specifically stated that when a prosecutor seeks a LWOP sentence for a juvenile offender, the defendant "must be afforded the opportunity and the financial resources to present evidence of mitigating factors relevant to the offender and the offense." (Emphasis added.)[4] See also Betterman v Montana, U.S.; 136 S.Ct. 1609, 1617; 194 L.Ed.2d 723 (2016) ("After conviction, a defendant's due process right to liberty, while diminished, is still present. He retains an interest in a sentencing proceeding that is fundamentally fair.").

         Recently, in People v Kennedy, 502 Mich. 206, 210; 917 N.W.2d 355 (2018), our Supreme Court determined that, contrary to prior case law, MCL 775.15[5] does not apply in the context of a criminal defendant's request for the appointment or funding of an expert. Instead, the Kennedy Court held that the United States Supreme Court's decision in Ake v Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68; 105 S.Ct. 1087; 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985), is the controlling law on the matter Id. And to assist a trial court in determining whether a defendant has made a sufficient showing to be entitled to assistance of an expert under Ake, the Court in Kennedy adopted the "reasonable probability" standard from Moore v Kemp, 809 F.2d 702 (CA 11, 1987). Kennedy, 502 Mich. at 210.

         We direct the trial court on remand to take into consideration the principles set forth in Kennedy in determining the amount of funds to reimburse defendant for his mitigation experts so as to satisfy constitutional requirements. Special attention should be given to the Kennedy Court's adoption of the "reasonable probability" standard articulated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Moore, 809 F.2d at 712. See ...

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