In each of the four cases before us, the defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, pursuant to MCL 750.316; MSA 28.548. We have consolidated these cases on appeal to decide the limited issue whether a person sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder is eligible for parole consideration under MCL 791.234(4); MSA 28.2304(4) and the proper retroactive effect of such a decision. We conclude that the existing statutory scheme governing conspiracy and its punishment does not preclude parole consideration for defendants convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Our decision has retroactive application.
Defendants Tipsword and Dudgeon were convicted by a jury in 1975 of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The defendants and two others conspired, for pay, to kill an Oak Park resident because of a "family problem." The planned murder was foiled when, on the night in question, the mother of the intended victim refused to answer a suspicious late night knock on the door of her residence and instead called the police. Defendants fled the scene and were apprehended shortly thereafter. In a consolidated appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed defendants' convictions and, upon remand ordered by this Court for the purpose of deciding the
Defendant Jones was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiring to kill two business partners. The plan was thwarted when the assassin selected by the defendant turned out to be a state trooper. The Court of Appeals affirmed defendant's convictions and subsequently held upon remand that defendant's sentence was nonparolable. 167 Mich.App. 424; 423 N.W.2d 590 (1988).
Defendant Jahner was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and assault with intent to murder. She was sentenced to life imprisonment for the conspiracy conviction and ten to twenty years imprisonment for the assault. Defendant conspired with another person to kill her stepmother. The victim was injured in the murder attempt, but recovered and testified at trial. Defendant's conviction of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder was ultimately held by order of the Court of Appeals to be a nonparolable offense.
Upon application for leave to appeal in this Court, these four cases were consolidated for consideration of the parole eligibility issue.
The present question involves the interplay of three statutes. The conspiracy statute was enacted as 1966 PA 296. It reads, in relevant part:
Thus, the penalty for conspiracy is vicarious and depends upon the target offense penalty where the target offense is punishable by imprisonment for one year or more. The defendants in the instant cases were charged with and convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. MCL 750.316; MSA 28.548, the first-degree murder statute, reads:
Finally, the so-called "lifer law" provides that those convicted of the substantive crime of first-degree murder are not eligible for parole consideration:
Although a statute may appear to be unambiguous on its face, "it can be rendered ambiguous by its interaction with and its relation to other statutes." 2A Sands, Sutherland Statutory Construction, § 46.04, pp 86-87. Such is the case here. The question of parole eligibility for defendants convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder cannot be answered by reference to the conspiracy statute alone, since that statute, by its terms, does not address the parole issue. Similarly, although the first-degree murder statute provides for mandatory life imprisonment, it too is silent with respect to parole implications. What makes first-degree murder a nonparolable offense is the "lifer law," which specifically excludes persons convicted of first-degree murder from the jurisdiction of the Parole Board after serving ten calendar years of the sentence. However, the "lifer law" does not similarly exclude defendants convicted of the crime of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder from the scope of its coverage. This is the heart of the present controversy over which the Court of Appeals panels have split evenly in the present cases. Should the express exclusion of first-degree murder from parole eligibility be extended by implication to the crime of conspiracy to commit
In each of the cases before us, the crime which was the object of the conspiracy did not come to fruition. None of the intended victims was killed. That the intended murders in these cases never occurred does not detract from the seriousness of the offenses, see People v Fernandez, 427 Mich. 321, 336; 398 N.W.2d 311 (1986); however, it does
While defendants in these cases were found guilty of an extremely heinous offense, it cannot be said that they were convicted of first-degree murder. Accordingly, the parole prohibition in the "lifer law" which expressly applies to first-degree murder does not apply to the separate and distinct crime of conspiracy to commit that offense.
Criminal statutes are to be strictly construed:
This rule is most commonly applied in defining those actions that come within the scope of a statutory prohibition. As explained in People v Willie Johnson, 75 Mich.App. 221, 225; 255 N.W.2d 207 (1977), aff'd 406 Mich. 320; 279 N.W.2d 534 (1979):
Similar considerations have given rise to the "rule of lenity." In People v Bergevin, 406 Mich. 307, 312; 279 N.W.2d 528 (1979), this Court quoted from Bell v United States, 349 U.S. 81, 83; 75 S.Ct. 620; 99 L Ed 905 (1955):
The rule of lenity operates in favor of an accused, mitigating punishment when punishment is unclear. Thus, in the instant cases, where the
Resolution of this issue in favor of parole is reinforced by another significant consideration.
The prosecution in the instant cases places undue emphasis on the term "penalty" as it is used in the conspiracy statute. The Court of Appeals in Jones (On Remand), supra, p 427, posited that
This approach overlooks the independent nature of the conspiracy statute and the "lifer law" vis-a-vis one another. While the conspiracy statute and the "lifer law" both address in general terms the punishment of criminal activity and therefore should be read in pari materia, the two statutes address separate and distinct considerations. The conspiracy statute is directed to the trial court and requires that it impose a particular "penalty" for the offense. However, the statutory command is discharged at the time of sentencing. By contrast, the "lifer law" is not directed at the sentencing court, but rather governs the power and authority of the Parole Board to grant parole under certain circumstances. Given the autonomy granted to the Parole Board and the separate function which it serves, we do not believe that the term "penalty" as it is used in the conspiracy statute encompasses the parole considerations set forth in the "lifer law."
Our prior treatment of parole as an element of the sentencing process supports this conclusion. In Guilty Plea Cases, 395 Mich. 96, 118; 235 N.W.2d 132 (1975), this Court ruled that the trial judge need not inform the defendant of all sentence consequences — only the maximum sentence for the crime to which he was pleading guilty. In subsequent cases, the Michigan courts have held that a
The prosecution also points to the Legislature's presumed awareness of existing law when it enacts new legislation, People v Timothy Smith, 423 Mich. 427, 441-442; 378 N.W.2d 384 (1985), as another basis for precluding parole eligibility. As the Jones Court theorized in its opinion on remand, the Legislature is presumed to have known that first-degree murder was nonparolable at the time it proclaimed in the conspiracy statute that one convicted of conspiracy is to receive a penalty equal to that which could be imposed for the substantive offense. Jones, supra, pp 426-427. See also People v Fernandez (On Remand), 164 Mich.App. 485, 489; 417 N.W.2d 540 (1987) (GILLIS, J., dissenting).
However, this presumption is contradicted by the fact that until relatively recently, there was a legitimate question — and difference of judicial opinion — on the more fundamental issue whether a conspiracy to commit first-degree murder conviction even required a mandatory life sentence pursuant to the language of the first-degree murder statute. See People v Fernandez, supra.
Moreover, the rules of statutory construction do not sustain the presumption of legislative knowledge under these particular circumstances:
We cannot assume that the Legislature misrepresented its intent when it limited exceptions to the "lifer law" to those offenses listed in the exceptions clause of MCL 791.234(4); MSA 28.2304(4).
We therefore conclude that a person sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder is eligible for parole consideration, pursuant to MCL 791.234(4); MSA 28.2304(4).
Accordingly, in People v Tipsword and People v Dudgeon, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.
In People v Jones and People v Jahner, we reverse the decisions of the Court of Appeals.
RILEY, C.J., and LEVIN, BRICKLEY, CAVANAGH, and ARCHER, JJ., concurred with GRIFFIN, J.
I concur in the majority's holding that a person sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, MCL 750.157a, 750.316; MSA 28.354(1), 28.548, is eligible for parole consideration pursuant to MCL 791.234(4); MSA 28.2304(4). I would, however, base my conclusion on the narrow ground that the three statutes in question evidence no legislative intent to exclude from Parole Board jurisdiction a person convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
All four defendants were convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. The conspiracy statute provides in pertinent part:
The punishment for first-degree murder is set forth in the statute describing that offense:
Finally, the "lifer law" expressly precludes a
The "lifer law" on its face must be interpreted to bring within Parole Board jurisdiction persons convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. The enumeration of exclusions from the operation of the statute indicates that the statute should apply to all cases not specifically excluded. 2A Sands, Sutherland Statutory Construction (4th ed), § 47.23, p 194. Van Sweden v Van Sweden, 250 Mich. 238, 241; 230 NW 191 (1930); Michigan Wolverine Student Co-operative, Inc v Goodyear, 314 Mich. 590; 22 N.W.2d 884 (1946). The "lifer law" generally confers Parole Board jurisdiction over prisoners who have served ten years of their sentence, expressly excepting persons convicted of first-degree murder and major controlled substance offenses. MCL 791.234(4); MSA 28.2304(4). Because persons convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder are not expressly excepted from the operation of the "lifer law," it is reasonable to assume that the Legislature did not intend to preclude such persons from parole eligibility.
Even when a statute appears unambiguous on its face, it may be rendered ambiguous by its interaction with and relation to other statutes. 2A Sands, Sutherland Statutory Construction (4th ed), § 46.04, pp 86-87. Taken together, the statutes
I believe that the more narrow interpretation accords with the structure and purpose of the statutes. The statutes defining conspiracy and first-degree murder, both contained in the Penal Code, address the punishment for those offenses. The "lifer law" is part of the Corrections Code
Consistent with this division of functions we held in Lane v Dep't of Corrections, Parole Bd, 383 Mich. 50, 61; 173 N.W.2d 209 (1970), that while the trial court has discretion to determine minimum sentences, the Parole Board, within the statutes, possesses the same discretion to determine the length of parole. We further held in Guilty Plea Cases, 395 Mich. 96, 118; 235 N.W.2d 132 (1975), cert den 429 U.S. 1108 (1977), that a trial judge need not inform a defendant of all sentencing consequences, but only of the maximum and any mandatory minimum sentence. I agree with the majority that
The prosecution in Jones urges a broader interpretation of the word "penalty" as used in the conspiracy statute, citing Burrows v Delta Transportation Co, 106 Mich. 582; 64 NW 501 (1895). In Burrows, this Court interpreted a statute which required fire screens over the smokestacks of wood-fueled vessels. Id., p 593. The statute provided that violation of its terms was a misdemeanor punishable by fine or imprisonment or both. Id., pp 593-594. The question was whether the word "penalty" in the title of the act fairly apprised the public that damages were recoverable under the act. Id., p 601. The Court answered in the affirmative, quoting from Grover v Huckins, 26 Mich. 476, 482 (1873):
The rule quoted in Burrows is dicta in Grover v Huckins, supra. Moreover, Burrows did not involve any question concerning parole. It would be unwarranted to conclude from the general language in Burrows that the word "penalty" as used in the conspiracy statute encompasses parole considerations.
Absent evidence to the contrary, it would be error to assume that the Legislature intended to treat persons convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder the same as persons convicted of first-degree murder with respect to parole. In
On remand, the Court of Appeals concluded that there was parole eligibility. 164 Mich.App. 485; 417 N.W.2d 540 (1987). No further appeal was pursued in Fernandez subsequent to the Court of Appeals decision on remand.
A related, consistent principle of statutory construction is that the express mention in a statute of one thing implies the exclusion of other similar things (expressio unius est exclusio alterius), Stowers v Wolodzko, 386 Mich. 119, 133; 191 N.W.2d 355 (1971); Sebewaing Ind v Village of Sebewaing, 337 Mich. 530, 545-546; 60 N.W.2d 444 (1953); Ellis v Wakefield Twp School Dist, 79 Mich.App. 347, 350; 261 N.W.2d 320 (1977).
The original version of the "lifer law" was contained in § 34 of the act:
Amendments to the "lifer law" were enacted in 1955 PA 107, 1957 PA 192, 1958 PA 210, 1978 PA 81, and 1982 PA 314. The title to each amendment cites the purpose of 1953 PA 232 as stated in its original title.