The prosecution appeals by leave granted
On November 10, 2004, defendant was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder, MCL 750.317, two counts of assault with intent to commit murder (AWIM), MCL 750.83, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), MCL 750.227b, and felon in possession of a firearm, MCL 750.224f. On December 13, 2004, the trial court sentenced defendant, a second habitual offender, MCL 769.10, to 40 to 60 years' imprisonment for the second-degree murder conviction, life imprisonment for each AWIM conviction, two years' imprisonment for the felony-firearm conviction, and 2 to 7½ years' imprisonment for the felon in possession of a firearm conviction. The trial court's sentence represented a 12-month upward departure from the applicable guidelines range.
On December 13, 2004, defendant appealed as of right his convictions and sentences on a number of grounds.
On August 8, 2006, defendant filed an application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. On October 4, 2006, while the application was still pending, the trial court resentenced defendant pursuant to this Court's June 13, 2006 order, imposing identical sentences and offering a number of justifications for the departure. The Supreme Court denied defendant's application for leave on December 28, 2006. People v Washington, 477 Mich. 973, 973; 725 N.W.2d 20 (2006).
On December 4, 2006, about three weeks before the Supreme Court denied defendant's initial application, defendant filed a delayed application for leave to appeal the resentencing order to this Court, again arguing that the trial court failed to articulate on the record the required "substantial and compelling reasons" for upward departure from defendant's sentencing guidelines. This Court denied defendant's application "for lack of merit." People v Washington, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered May 4, 2007 (Docket No. 274768). Defendant filed an application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, which that Court ultimately denied. People v Washington, 480 Mich. 891, 891; 738 N.W.2d 734 (2007).
Several months later, on March 25, 2008, defendant filed a motion for relief from judgment in the trial court pursuant to MCR 6.502, raising claims of (1) insufficient evidence, (2) denial of his right to present an insanity defense, (3) ineffective assistance of trial counsel, and (4) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The trial court denied defendant's motion for failure to demonstrate good cause for not raising the issues in a prior appeal and actual prejudice under MCR 6.508(D). This Court denied a delayed application for leave to appeal the trial court's decision, People v Washington, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered October 19, 2009 (Docket No. 292891), and the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal this Court's denial, People v Washington, 486 Mich. 1042, 1042; 783 N.W.2d 335 (2010).
On June 22, 2016, after exhausting all available postconviction relief, defendant filed his second motion for relief from judgment—the motion giving rise to the instant appeal. Defendant challenged his sentences on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that the trial court's October 4, 2006 order after resentencing was invalid because the court lacked jurisdiction to sentence defendant while his application remained pending before the Michigan Supreme Court. In response, the prosecution argued that defendant's successive motion for relief from judgment was clearly barred by MCR 6.502(G), which prohibits successive motions for relief from judgment unless there has been a retroactive change in the law or new evidence has been discovered. In a November 22, 2016 written order and opinion, the trial court indicated its agreement with the prosecution's argument but noted that the prosecution had failed to address the jurisdictional issue which "may be raised at any time." The trial court concluded that under MCR 7.215(F)(1)(a), MCR 7.305(C)(6)(a), and relevant case law, it had lacked jurisdiction to enter the October 4, 2006 judgment of sentence. The trial court granted defendant's motion, vacated defendant's sentences, and ordered resentencing.
The prosecution argues that the trial court erred when it granted defendant's motion for relief from judgment because MCR 6.502(G)(1) unequivocally bars successive motions for relief from judgment absent application of an explicit exception. We agree in part.
We review a trial court's decision on a motion for relief from judgment for an abuse of discretion. People v Swain, 288 Mich.App. 609, 628; 794 N.W.2d 92 (2010). An abuse of discretion occurs when a trial court's decision falls outside the range of reasonable and principled outcomes, or it makes an error of law. Id. at 628-629. The proper interpretation and application of court rules is a question of law reviewed de novo. People v Buie, 285 Mich.App. 401, 416; 775 N.W.2d 817 (2009).
Motions for relief from judgment are governed by MCR 6.500 et seq. Swain, 288 Mich App at 629. MCR 6.502(G)(1) provides, in pertinent part:
MCR 6.502(G)(2) provides two exceptions to the general rule against successive motions for relief from judgment, allowing a "second or subsequent motion based on a retroactive change in law that occurred after the first motion," or "a claim of new evidence that was not discovered before the first such motion." Any successive motion that does not assert one of these two exceptions must be returned to the defendant and not filed in the court. Swain, 288 Mich App at 631, citing MCR 6.502(G)(1).
This Court in Swain, 288 Mich App at 632, explicitly held that "MCR 6.502(G)(2) provides the only two exceptions to the prohibition of successive motions." Swain is binding on this Court, as it is on the trial court, MCR 7.215(C)(2), and we discern no ambiguity in the language of MCR 6.502(G) to warrant reconsideration of the issue.
Defendant's successive motion for relief from judgment was predicated on a claimed "jurisdictional defect" invalidating the October 4, 2006 judgment of sentence. Defendant's successive motion for relief from judgment did not involve a retroactive change in the law or newly discovered evidence. Regardless of the merits of defendant's claim of error, the trial court lacked authority to grant defendant's motion under MCR 6.502.
However, a motion for relief from judgment under MCR 6.502 is merely a procedural vehicle, and our determination that relief under MCR 6.502 was unavailable to defendant here does not end our inquiry. We agree that the prosecution has failed to address the substantive issue in defendant's motion for relief from judgment, which, while brought pursuant to an inapplicable court rule, nevertheless constitutes an important and reviewable claim of error.
It is indisputable that the trial court lacked jurisdiction
Similarly, MCR 7.215(F)(1)(a) provides that a "Court of Appeals judgment is effective after the expiration of the time for filing an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, or, if such an application is filed, after the disposition of the case by the Supreme Court." Neither this Court nor our Supreme Court ordered otherwise, and under the court rules, this Court's June 13, 2006 resentencing order was not effective until after the Supreme Court entered its December 28, 2006 order denying leave to appeal. However, the trial court conducted the resentencing hearing on October 4, 2006, while the application for leave to appeal was still pending and while, pursuant to MCR 7.305(C)(6)(a), the lower court proceedings were stayed.
Our Supreme Court considered a similar set of circumstances in People v Swafford, 483 Mich. 1, 6 n 5; 762 N.W.2d 902 (2009). The Swafford Court noted that, consistent with the aforementioned court rules, the defendant's timely application for leave to appeal a judgment from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court stayed the proceedings on remand and divested the trial court of jurisdiction during the pendency of the application. Id. Thus, in Swafford, the Court held that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to conduct a new trial while leave was pending in the Supreme Court, the proceedings were stayed, and this Court's judgment was not yet effective. Id.
Although the prosecution argues otherwise, the trial court's entry of the judgment of sentence without jurisdiction was not merely procedural error. "The term jurisdiction refers to the power of a court to act and the authority a court has to hear and determine a case." People v Clement, 254 Mich.App. 387, 394; 657 N.W.2d 172 (2002) (quotation marks and citation omitted). "Jurisdiction of the subject matter of a judicial proceeding is an absolute requirement." In re AMB, 248 Mich.App. 144, 166; 640 N.W.2d 262 (2001) (quotation marks and citation omitted). "When a court is without jurisdiction of the subject matter, its acts and proceedings are of no force or validity; they are a mere nullity and are void." Clement, 254 Mich App at 394 (quotation marks and citation omitted). Thus, because the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hold a resentencing hearing and enter the October 4, 2006 judgment of sentence, the resentencing hearing and the resultant judgment of sentence lack force and authority and are considered void.
"Jurisdictional defects may be raised at any time." People v Martinez, 211 Mich.App. 147, 149; 535 N.W.2d 236 (1995); see also Smith v Smith, 218 Mich.App. 727, 729-730; 555 N.W.2d 271 (1996) ("[A] challenge to subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time, even if raised for the first time on appeal."). "Subject-matter jurisdiction is so critical to a court's authority that a court has an independent obligation to take notice when it lacks such jurisdiction, even when the parties do not raise the issue." AMB, 248 Mich App at 166-167; see also Clement, 254 Mich App at 394 (explaining that a court is bound to notice the limits of its authority and recognize its lack of jurisdiction sua sponte). Regardless of whether the issue was raised in an improperly supported motion, the trial court clearly had the power to consider the jurisdictional issue brought to its attention.
The prosecution suggests that the prohibition on successive motions for relief from judgment and the principle that the issue of subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time create a conflict in the law. However, at least in the case before us, any such conflict is illusory. Despite the prosecution's argument to the contrary, the trial court's ruling did not improperly carve out a third exception to MCR 6.502(G)(1). Instead, the trial court exercised its inherent power to "recognize its lack of jurisdiction or any pertinent boundaries on its proper exercise." Clement, 254 Mich App at 394 (quotation marks and citation omitted). The trial court properly recognized that its October 4, 2006 judgment of sentence was a nullity, and its compliance with this Court's June 13, 2006 order for resentencing was incomplete. Under MCL 600.611, "[c]ircuit courts have jurisdiction and power to make any order proper to fully effectuate the circuit court's jurisdiction and judgments." The trial court therefore did not err when it "vacated" the October 4, 2006 judgment of sentence and ordered a resentencing hearing. And while, as previously discussed, the trial court erred when it granted defendant's motion for relief from judgment in contravention of MCR 6.502, "[a] trial court's ruling may be upheld on appeal where the right result issued, albeit for the wrong reason." Gleason v Michigan Dep't of Transp, 256 Mich.App. 1, 3; 662 N.W.2d 822 (2003).