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A Better Partnership
October 27, 2011

COA Opinion: Michigan law does not permit consecutive sentencing for prisoner offenses arising out of the same acts

In People v. Williams, No. 299809, the Court of Appeals reversed consecutive sentencing of Williams for the crimes of possession and delivery of marijuana because the possession and delivery were contemporaneous and tried in a single trial. When a defendant is serving time for a prior offense and commits another offense while incarcerated, MCL ' 768.7a(1) permits a court to impose a sentence for the new offense that is consecutive to the offense he is currently serving. Here, however, where the offenses arose out of the single transaction of exchanging marijuana for a candy bar, the Court declined to interpret MCL ' 768.7a(1) as permitting a court to impose two consecutive sentences. Instead, the Court held that the sentences for possession and delivery would run concurrently to each other, but consecutively to the prior sentence already being served.

While incarcerated, Williams was caught trading marijuana for a candy bar and was charged with both possession of marijuana and delivery. He was convicted and sentenced as a fourth habitual offender to 34 months to 30 years' imprisonment for the prisoner in possession conviction, and 34 months to 15 years' imprisonment for the delivery conviction, to be served consecutively to each other and to the domestic violence sentence he was serving when he committed the new drug-related offenses.

After rejecting Williams' sufficiency-of-the-evidence and double-jeopardy challenges to the convictions, the Court reversed the circuit court's consecutive sentences for possession and delivery because Michigan law does not permit it. Concurrent sentencing is the norm, unless specifically authorized by statute. MCL ' 768.7a(1) was enacted to permit a court to impose a sentence for crimes committed while incarcerated that runs consecutively to the sentence already being served for a prior crime. Otherwise, it is possible that a defendant would serve no time for the subsequent crimes. MCL ' 768.7a(1) provides that the term of imprisonment for a crime committed while incarcerated "shall begin to run at the expiration of the term or terms of imprisonment which the person is serving or has become liable to serve . . ." A defendant may have become liable to serve a sentence consecutive to the one being served that he has not yet begun to serve. The phrase "has become liable to serve" has been interpreted to permit a court to impose consecutive sentences for each consecutive crime committed while incarcerated. But the Court concluded it was not intended to permit stacking of two sentences here, where the sentences arose out of contemporaneous acts giving rise to offenses tried in a single trial.

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