Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

People v. McBurrows

Supreme Court of Michigan

July 15, 2019

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
ROMON BERRY McBURROWS, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued on application for leave to appeal April 11, 2019.

          Chief Justice: Bridget M. McCormack, Chief Justice Pro Tem: David F. Viviano, Justices: Stephen J. Markman Brian K. Zahra Richard H. Bernstein Elizabeth T. Clement Megan K. Cavanagh

         BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH

         Romon B. McBurrows was charged in the Monroe Circuit Court with one count of delivery of a controlled substance causing death, MCL 750.317a, in connection with the death of Nicholas Abraham. Abraham, a resident of Monroe County, had driven an acquaintance to a house in Wayne County where the acquaintance bought heroin from defendant. Abraham and the acquaintance used some of the heroin in a nearby parking lot and then returned to their homes. Abraham was found unresponsive the next morning and was pronounced dead later that day. An autopsy concluded that Abraham had died from an overdose of fentanyl, which is sometimes mixed with heroin. Defendant filed a motion disputing Monroe County as a proper venue, and the trial court, Daniel White, J., denied the motion. Defendant then applied for leave to appeal on an interlocutory basis in the Court of Appeals, which granted leave and stayed the trial court proceedings pending the appeal. The Court of Appeals, Talbot, C.J., and Borrello and Riordan, JJ., reversed, holding that venue was proper in Wayne County, where defendant allegedly delivered the heroin, and that venue was not proper in Monroe County under either MCL 762.5 or MCL 762.8. People v McBurrows, 322 Mich.App. 404 (2017). The prosecution appealed in the Supreme Court, which ordered and heard oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other action. 501 Mich. 1073 (2018).

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

         In a prosecution for delivery of a controlled substance causing death, venue is not properly laid in a county if the death, but not the delivery, occurred in that county.

         1. A criminal trial should be by a jury of the county or city where the offense was committed. The parameters of this general rule are not codified in Michigan. While MCL 762.1 provides that the courts of this state that have jurisdiction and powers over criminal causes have the "jurisdiction and powers as are now conferred upon them by law," this language is too general to provide meaningful guidance. Instead, what is codified are certain exceptions to or expansions of the general rule, which allow venue in locations besides that provided for in the general rule. Thus, identifying a proper venue is a two-step process: first, the proper venue under the general rule must be identified; second, it must be determined whether a statutory exception permits departure from the general rule. Although the general venue rule has at times been stated in permissive terms, in the absence of an applicable statutory exception, that the trial be held in the county or city where the offense was committed is a mandatory aspect of criminal venue in Michigan that derives from the continuing constitutional guarantee of the preexisting common-law right to trial by jury.

         2. Under federal law, which constitutionally requires that federal criminal trials be held in the state where the crimes were committed, the location of the crime is determined from the nature of the crime alleged and the location of the act or acts constituting it. One method for making this determination is the "verb test," in which identifying the essential verb in the statute creating a crime is the critical inquiry in identifying the proper venue for a federal prosecution. However, the Supreme Court has stated that this test cannot be applied rigidly, to the exclusion of other relevant statutory language, because the proper inquiry is into the nature of the offense. In this case, whether emphasizing the key verbs or inquiring into the nature of the offense, a violation of MCL 750.317a occurs at the place of the delivery of the controlled substance. This statute punishes an individual's role in placing the controlled substance in the stream of commerce, even when that individual is not directly linked to the resultant death; that consequences are felt elsewhere is immaterial, even if those consequences are required elements of the offense.

         3. While the Court of Appeals correctly determined that the proper venue for prosecuting this case was Wayne County, it reached that conclusion using flawed reasoning. MCL 750.317a is properly understood as punishing an individual for the act of placing into the stream of commerce a controlled substance that ultimately causes an individual's death. Therefore, a violation of MCL 750.317a occurs at the place of the delivery of the controlled substance. This is true even though the crime is not complete until all of its elements occur, and both consumption of a controlled substance and death caused by that consumption are elements of the offense. Accordingly, MCL 750.317a is not merely a "penalty enhancement"; it is a crime with its own elements that is distinct from the crime established in MCL 333.7401.

         4. Neither MCL 762.5 nor MCL 762.8 provides a basis for establishing venue in Monroe County. MCL 762.5 provides that "[i]f any mortal wound shall be given or other violence or injury shall be inflicted, or any poison shall be administered in 1 county by means whereof death shall ensue in another county, the offense may be prosecuted and punished in either county." The word "inflict" is defined in part as "to impose as something that must be suffered or endured," and the word "administer" is defined in relevant part as "[t]o dispense, furnish, supply, or give . . . to the recipient." In this case, defendant neither imposed anything on the decedent nor gave anything to the decedent. Rather, it was alleged that defendant delivered certain substances to the decedent through an intermediary, with no allegation that defendant even was aware of the decedent's existence. He did not interact with the decedent in the fashion contemplated by MCL 762.5 or in the way the defendant did in People v Southwick, 272 Mich. 258 (1935), which was distinguishable for that reason. Similarly, venue was not properly laid in Monroe County under MCL 762.8, which provides: "Whenever a felony consists or is the culmination of 2 or more acts done in the perpetration of that felony, the felony may be prosecuted in any county where any of those acts were committed or in any county that the defendant intended the felony or acts done in perpetration of the felony to have an effect." For MCL 762.8 to apply here, there must have been an act done in perpetration of the alleged felony in Monroe County by defendant or his agent. There was, however, no allegation that defendant endeavored to deliver the heroin to the decedent or that he intended the decedent's death, nor was it alleged that the decedent intended to die or coordinated his actions with defendant in any way. In the absence of some indication that the decedent was implicated in or culpable for defendant's action, he has not done something in perpetration of defendant's offense for purposes of MCL 762.8.

         Court of Appeals judgment affirmed; case remanded for further proceedings.

          OPINION

          CLEMENT, J.

         In this case, we consider whether, in a prosecution for delivery of a controlled substance causing death, venue is properly laid in a county if the death, but not the delivery, occurred in that county. We conclude that venue in such circumstances is not proper, and so we affirm the conclusion of the Court of Appeals in this regard and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

         On December 12, 2016, Nicholas Abraham-a resident of Monroe County- contacted an acquaintance, William Ingall, about procuring some heroin. Abraham picked up Ingall, and the two traveled to a house in Detroit. Abraham gave Ingall money, and Ingall went into the house to purchase heroin from defendant, Romon McBurrows. Abraham and Ingall then went to a nearby laundromat parking lot, where they consumed some of the heroin. Ingall noted that the heroin seemed unusually strong, and he warned Abraham to be careful when consuming it. Abraham took Ingall home and then returned to his own home, in Monroe County. Upon arriving at home at about 10:00 p.m., Abraham provided some heroin to his wife, Michelle, who used it and passed out. When she awoke in the early morning hours of December 13, she found Abraham unresponsive, and after failing to resuscitate him, she called the authorities, who pronounced him dead that same day. An autopsy ultimately concluded that Abraham's death was caused by fentanyl toxicity-fentanyl being a substance sometimes mixed with heroin.

         Defendant was charged in Monroe County with one count of delivery of a controlled substance causing death. He filed a motion disputing Monroe County as a proper venue.[2]The trial court denied the motion. Defendant then filed an application for leave to appeal on an interlocutory basis in the Court of Appeals, which granted leave and stayed the trial court proceedings pending the appeal.[3] The Court of Appeals ultimately reversed the judgment of the trial court. People v McBurrows, 322 Mich.App. 404; 913 N.W.2d 342 (2017). The People then appealed in this Court, and we ordered argument on the application as to whether, on these facts, Monroe County was a proper venue for this criminal trial. People v McBurrows, 501 Mich. 1073 (2018).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "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). This case also involves certain venue statutes, the interpretation of which we also review de novo. Tryc ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.