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One Court of Justice Blog

August 07, 2017

MSC: Defendant may be sentenced as three-time felony-firearm offender even when prior convictions arose from a single incident

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, even where the two prior convictions arose out of the same criminal incident, said the Michigan Supreme Court in People v Wilson, No. 154039. The Court overruled People v Stewart, 441 Mich 89 (1992), which held that the two prior felony-firearm convictions had to arise out of separate criminal incidents.
 
Defendant had two prior convictions for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony arising from a single incident. The trial court jury convicted him of a third felony-firearm. He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment as a third felony-firearm offender under MCL 750.227b(1). Defendant challenged his sentence, arguing that it was improper because his previous convictions for felony-firearm arose out of a single incident. Under Stewart, when determining 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. However, the trial court agreed with the prosecution that Stewart was no longer good law because it relied on cases previously overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court. The trial court further noted that nothing in the language of MCL 750.227b(1) requires the previous felony-firearm convictions to have arisen from separate incidents. Defendant appealed.
 
The Court of Appeals overturned the trial court, reasoning that all lower courts remain bound by Stewart until the Michigan Supreme Court overrules it. The prosecution appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, arguing that Stewart is not consistent with the plain language of MCL 750.227b(1) and should be overruled. After hearing oral argument on the application, the Court agreed.
 
The Court reasoned that under the place language of MCL 750.227b(1), a defendant convicted of 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. The text of the statute made exceptions for certain convictions, but no exceptions existed for convictions arising out of the same criminal incident. Additionally, similar to the habitual-offender statutes, the felony-firearm statute contemplates the number of times a person has been ‘convicted’ of felony-firearm.
 
The Court further held that it was appropriate to overrule its decision in Stewart because it was wrongly decided and its reasoning was based entirely on cases the Court had since overruled. Therefore, the Court overruled Stewart and held that it is irrelevant under MCL 750.227b(1) that Defendant’s prior convictions arose out of the same criminal incident. Thus, Defendant could be properly sentenced as a third felony-firearm offender.
 

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