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People v. Morrison

Court of Appeals of Michigan

June 18, 2019


          Jackson Circuit Court LC No. 18-003993-FH

          Before: Meter, P.J., and Jansen and M. J. Kelly, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         The prosecution appeals as of right the trial court's order granting defendant's motion to dismiss charges of possession of methamphetamine, MCL 333.7403(2)(b)(i), and possession of methamphetamine analogues, MCL 333.7403(2)(b)(ii). We reverse and remand.

         The prosecution argues that the trial court erred when it granted defendant's motion to dismiss the charges pursuant to the "Good Samaritan law," MCL 333.7403(3)(a), because the court relied on public policy supporting the law, rather than statutory interpretation or findings of fact, and the amount of drugs that defendant possessed was in excess of an amount "sufficient only for personal use" for the statute to apply. We agree that the trial court erred in dismissing the charges because it failed to consider the statutory language.

         In January 2017, defendant's mother called the police because defendant overdosed on drugs. When law enforcement and emergency medical services arrived, defendant was unconscious and unresponsive. Defendant was transported to the hospital, and tested positive for amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, and opiates. He had acute respiratory failure, and required intubation and mechanical ventilation. He was discharged from the hospital four days later. When the police executed a search warrant for defendant's bedroom, they found 0.44 grams of MDMA (ecstasy), 3.53 grams of a synthetic opioid called U-47700, and 349 pills of Xanax. Defendant was charged with possession of methamphetamine (MDMA) and methamphetamine analogues (Xanax) in January 2018. He was not charged with possession of U-47700 because it is not a controlled substance in Michigan. Defendant was arrested in February 2018.

          In June 2018, defendant moved to dismiss the charges based on the Good Samaritan law, MCL 333.7403(3)(a). The prosecution conceded to the factual allegations underlying defendant's arrest, but argued that the Good Samaritan law did not apply because the amount of Xanax found in defendant's room far exceeded an amount "sufficient only for personal use." The prosecution did not support its response to defendant's motion with affidavits or other documentary evidence. The court held a hearing on defendant's motion, and merely provided on the record:

And if [defendant's] mother hadn't called then we'd have mom in here on charges. And, we do want to encourage people to call.

         The trial court granted defendant's motion, and entered an order dismissing the charges.

         This Court reviews a trial court's decision on a motion to dismiss charges against a criminal defendant for an abuse of discretion. People v Nicholson, 297 Mich.App. 191, 196; 822 N.W.2d 284 (2012). An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's decision "falls outside the range of principled outcomes." Id. "Whether a defendant's conduct falls within the scope of a penal statute is a question of statutory interpretation that is reviewed de novo." People v Rea, 500 Mich. 422, 427; 902 N.W.2d 362 (2017).

         A person may not knowingly or intentionally possess controlled substances or their analogues. MCL 333.7403(1). However, in certain circumstances, if an individual overdoses on a controlled substance, that individual may not be in violation of the statute. As provided in the Good Samaritan law:

(a) An individual who seeks medical assistance for himself or herself or who requires medical assistance and is presented for assistance by another individual if he or she is incapacitated because of a drug overdose or other perceived medical emergency arising from the use of a controlled substance or a controlled substance analogue that he or she possesses or possessed in an amount sufficient only for personal use and the evidence of his or her violation of this section is obtained as a result of the individual's seeking or being presented for medical assistance [MCL 333.7403(3)(a) (emphasis added)].

         When interpreting a statute, a court's goal is to give effect to the Legislature's intent by first looking to the plain language of the statute. People v Lowe, 484 Mich. 718, 721-722; 733 N.W.2d 1 (2009). If the statutory language is unambiguous, the court must apply the language as written, and further analysis is neither required nor permitted. People v Borchard-Ruhland, 460 Mich. 278, 284; 597 N.W.2d 1 (1999). A court must assume that each word has some meaning, and should avoid constructions that render a part of the statute "surplusage or nugatory." Id. at 285. A court may not look to the statute's purpose or its public policy objectives unless the statutory language is ambiguous or unclear. People v Pinkney, 501 Mich. 259, 272; 912 N.W.2d 535 (2018). When a court looks to the public policy without first analyzing the plain language, the court" 'runs counter to the rule of statutory construction directing us to discern legislative intent from plain statutory language.'" Id., quoting Perkovic v Zurich American Ins Co, 500 Mich. 44, 53; 893 N.W.2d 322 (2017).

         There is no caselaw interpreting or applying the Good Samaritan law. Defendant relies on People v Baham, 321 Mich.App. 228; 909 N.W.2d 836 (2017), a case in which this Court interpreted a similar personal use exception regarding the manufacture of controlled substances, but in the context of manufacture of methamphetamine. This Court considered a similar question in 1987, but in the context of an individual who was growing marijuana. People v Pearson, 157 Mich.App. 68, 72; 403 N.W.2d 498 (1987).[1] In both cases, the Court held that a personal use exception applies only to the preparation and compounding of a controlled substance already in existence, not the growth or manufacture of new controlled substances. Baham, 321 Mich.App. at 242-243; Pearson, 157 Mich.App. at ...

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