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BlogsPublications | July 14, 2017
3 minute read

MSC: Trial Court May Not Correct an Invalid Sentence Sua Sponte After Judgment Has Been Entered

A sentencing error causing a sentence to be invalid—not caught at the time of sentencing by either the defendant, prosecution, or the court—cannot be corrected after judgment without a motion by one of the parties.  That is what the Michigan Supreme Court held in People v Comer, No. 152713, noting that “the trial court’s authority to correct an invalid sentence on its own initiative ends upon entry of the judgment of sentence.” This decision reversed the Michigan Court of Appeals’ majority opinion in People v Harris, 224 Mich App 597 (1997). 

The defendant in Comer pled guilty to sexual conduct in the first degree (CSC-1) and second-degree home invasion. After the defendant appealed his original sentence based on a scoring error, the Court of Appeals remanded the case for resentencing. Both the original sentence and the resentencing left unchecked a line referring to lifetime electronic monitoring, which the defendant’s sentence should have included pursuant to People v Brantley, 296 Mich App 546 (2012). The Michigan Department of Corrections later notified the trial court of this error. On its own initiative, the trial court signed a new judgment of sentence including the monitoring requirement, rejecting the defendant’s argument that the judgment may only be corrected pursuant to a timely-filed motion by either party. After an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court and subsequent remand, the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the previous sentence was invalid and that the trial court had the authority to correct an invalid sentence without any time limitations.

The Michigan Supreme Court agreed that the sentence was invalid, holding that “the Legislature has mandated lifetime electronic monitoring for all CSC-I sentences except when the defendant is sentenced to life without parole under MCL 750.520b(2)(c).” However, reading together the texts of the Michigan Court Rules regarding correcting mistakes in judgments and sentences, the Court held that “the [trial] court’s ability to correct substantive mistakes under MCR 6.435(B) ends upon entry of judgment.” After that point, the court may only correct an invalid sentence if either party files a motion to do so, pursuant to MCR 6.429. Thus, the trial court erred in adding lifetime electronic monitoring to the defendant’s sentence on its own initiative. The Supreme Court reinstated the second judgment of sentence, which lacked electronic monitoring, noting that the time for a party to move to correct the sentence had expired.

Justice Zahra concurred with the majority’s conclusions that the sentence was invalid and that the trial court could no longer correct the invalid sentence on its own initiative. But he dissented from the majority’s remedy, reasoning that the plea was not constitutionally valid due to the trial court’s failure to advise the defendant of the lifetime electronic monitoring requirement. Instead of simply reinstating the sentence, Justice Zahra concluded that the court should “give the defendant the opportunity to elect to allow the plea and sentence to stand or withdraw the plea.”