The issue in this case is whether MCL 333.7405(1)(d), which, among other things, forbids a person from knowingly "keep[ing] or maintain[ing]" a vehicle that is used for keeping or selling controlled substances, requires for a conviction that the prosecutor show, as was stated in People v. Griffin, 235 Mich.App. 27, 32, 597 N.W.2d 176 (1999), that the defendant's actions occurred "continuously for an appreciable period."
We reject the Griffin Court construction of the statute and hold that while the statute precludes a conviction for an isolated incident without other evidence of continuity, the statute does not require the prosecution to show that a defendant's actions occurred "continuously for an appreciable
I. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW
Acting on a tip that defendant, who had the nickname of "Doughboy," was going to deliver some drugs at a parking lot of a restaurant, several law enforcement officers went to that location. A white van fitting the description of the vehicle "Doughboy" was expected to be driving entered and parked. A woman who appeared to have been waiting for the white van got out of a nearby red sedan and got into the van through its rear passenger door. A few minutes later she stepped out of the van, got back into the sedan, and started to back up the sedan in order to drive away. After the police stopped the sedan, they found four rocks of crack cocaine on the floorboard of the driver's side of the sedan, and a crack pipe and lighter were found on the floor near the backseat. A passenger hiding in the back of the sedan was found to be in possession of a small amount of marijuana.
As one of the officers approached the white van, defendant started getting out of the van with a cell phone in his hand and he turned toward the van so that the officer could not see his hands.
After a jury trial, defendant was convicted of delivery of less than 50 grams of cocaine, MCL 333.7401(2)(a)(iv), and maintaining a drug vehicle, MCL 333.7405(1)(d).
The Court of Appeals affirmed the cocaine delivery conviction but reversed the conviction of maintaining a drug vehicle for the reason that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction.
The prosecutor filed an application for leave to appeal regarding the reversal of the conviction for maintaining a drug vehicle, and defendant filed an application for leave to file a cross-appeal regarding the affirmance of his delivery conviction. We granted the prosecutor's application for leave to appeal, but denied defendant's cross-application.
We limited the grant of leave to appeal to the issues whether a defendant must "keep or maintain" a vehicle used for the purpose of selling a controlled substance "continuously for an appreciable period of time" as required by Griffin, supra at 32-33, 597 N.W.2d 176, in order to sustain a conviction under MCL 333.7405(1)(d) and whether the evidence presented in this case was sufficient to sustain the defendant's conviction for keeping or maintaining a drug vehicle.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Whether MCL 333.7405(1)(d) requires the prosecutor to show that a defendant's actions occurred "continuously for an appreciable period" is a legal question, and we review legal questions de novo. People v. Morey, 461 Mich. 325, 329-330, 603 N.W.2d 250 (1999). Our fundamental obligation when interpreting statutes is "to ascertain the legislative intent that may reasonably be inferred from the words expressed in the statute." Koontz v. Ameritech Services, Inc., 466 Mich. 304, 312, 645 N.W.2d 34 (2002). Pursuant to MCL 8.3a, undefined statutory terms are to be given their plain and ordinary meaning, unless the undefined word or phrase is a term of art.
III. ANALYSIS OF THE STATUTE
We have not previously had the occasion to construe MCL 333.7405(1)(d). The Court of Appeals, however, has issued two published opinions addressing it in the context of a charge of maintaining a drug house. First, in People v. Bartlett, 231 Mich.App. 139, 147, 585 N.W.2d 341 (1998), the panel, citing Wahrer v. State, 901 P.2d 442, 444 (Alaska App., 1995), explained, "Alas Stat. 11.71.040(a)(5), which mirrors MCL 333.7405(d); MSA 14.15(7405)(d), requires proof that the defendant knew that the premises were being used for continuing
With this in mind, we turn to an analysis of the proper meaning of this phrase.
MCL 333.7405(1)(d) provides, as relevant here, that a person "[s]hall not knowingly keep or maintain a . . . vehicle . . . that is used for keeping or selling controlled substances in violation of this article." To determine the proper meaning of "keep or maintain" we first examine the statute itself. As with most statutory phrases, neither the individual word "keep" or "maintain" nor the phrase "keep or maintain" is defined in the statute.
Random House Webster's College Dictionary (1991) defines "keep" as "to maintain . . ., to cause to continue in a given position, state, course, or action." (Emphasis added.) It defines "maintain" as "to keep in existence or continuance." Id. (emphasis added).
As discussed above, "keep" is defined as "to cause to continue" and "maintain" is defined as "to keep in existence or continuance." Id. (emphasis added). The words "keep" and "maintain" both contain an element of "continuity." Even the dissent's definitions of these terms contain an element of "continuity." The dissent defines "maintain" as "to keep in an existing state." Post at 717, quoting Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1987). Keeping something in an existing state necessarily requires some degree of continuity. The dissent defines "keep" as "to retain in one's possession." Post at 718,
Finding that evidence of continuity is required to convict a person of "keeping or maintaining" a drug vehicle is consistent with this Court's decision in People v. Gastro, 75 Mich. 127, 42 N.W. 937 (1889). In Gastro, supra at 133-134, 42 N.W. 937, this Court held that "[a] single act of lewdness or prostitution would not constitute the offense [of keeping and maintaining a house of ill fame] which the statute prohibits and punishes. . . ." Just as one does not keep and maintain a house of ill fame by engaging in an isolated act of lewdness or prostitution in the house, one does not keep or maintain a drug vehicle by engaging in an isolated act of selling drugs out of the vehicle.
The phrase "keep or maintain" implies usage with some degree of continuity that can be deduced by actual observation of repeated acts or circumstantial evidence, such as perhaps a secret compartment or the like, that conduces to the same conclusion.
We note that the Legislature has twice indicated
In states with statutes substantially similar to MCL 333.7405(1)(d) there is remarkable uniformity in giving meaning to "keep or maintain."
We find this interpretation persuasive and consistent with the interpretation that we have adopted after analyzing the words of the statute.
With regard to the Court of Appeals Griffin test, which held that MCL 333.7405(1)(d) requires a showing that the defendant's actions occurred "continuously for an appreciable period," we believe it likely that the panel was attempting to draw from Dawson but mistakenly utilized only one part of the Dawson formulation, i.e., that the defendant's actions "must be continuous to some degree." Dawson, supra at 678-679. The difficulty with this truncated Griffin definition is that it unwarrantedly establishes a higher burden of proof than is justified by the statutory language. While the Dawson court's formulation, "continuous to some degree," would be satisfied by a showing of intermittent use, the Griffin Court's language, "continuously for an appreciable period," seems to suggest a longer period of use with few or no interruptions. Having said that, we reiterate that "keep or maintain" is not synonymous with "use." Hence, if the evidence only shows that defendant used a vehicle to keep or deliver drugs on one occasion, and there is no other evidence of continuity, the evidence is insufficient to establish that defendant kept or maintained a drug vehicle in violation of MCL 333.7405(1)(d).
Having clarified the correct construction of MCL 333.7405(1)(d), and because the Court of Appeals analyzed defendant's claim regarding the evidence that he kept or maintained a drug vehicle under language we have rejected today, we find it appropriate to have the Court of Appeals determine in the first instance whether the evidence supporting defendant's conviction of maintaining a drug vehicle was sufficient in light of the interpretation of the statute set forth in our opinion today. The parties shall be allowed to file supplemental briefs.
IV. RESPONSE TO THE DISSENT
Justice Corrigan's partial dissent accuses us of giving offenders a free pass to use a vehicle to keep or sell drugs. We, of course, have done no such thing. Rather, we have simply determined, on the basis of the words of the statute and consistently with the overwhelming majority of other courts that have construed similar statutes, that the Legislature did not intend a conviction for knowingly keeping or maintaining a drug vehicle to obtain if there was only evidence of a single use. Defendants who possess or deliver controlled substances are already subject to felony prosecution for possession or delivery independent of evidence of a vehicle's use. There is no free pass.
For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration of defendant's sufficiency of the evidence argument in light of this opinion.
MARILYN J. KELLY, J. I concur in the result only.
MICHAEL F. CAVANAGH, ELIZABETH A. WEAVER and STEPHEN J. MARKMAN, JJ., concur.
MARKMAN, J. (concurring).
I fully join the majority opinion but write separately only to address two provisions of law that are referenced in the majority's analysis, see ante at 713 n. 9.
First, MCL 333.7121(2) states:
Second, MCL 333.1111(1) states:
In light of these provisions, the majority opinion reasonably surveys the decisions of foreign courts that have interpreted the dispositive phrase in this case, "keep or maintain," but concludes that this Court does not construe §§ 7121(2) and 1111(1) as "admonitions that we follow constructions placed on similar statutes in other jurisdictions if those rulings are inconsistent with the words used in our statutes." Ante at 713 n. 9. I agree with this observation, but also note that if these provisions are, in fact, understood as "admonitions" to that effect, they would be beyond the authority of the Legislature.
This Court has said on innumerable occasions that it is obligated to defer to legislative judgments, even when such judgments are far afield from our own. This is because the legislative power is the power to undertake policy judgments and to set forth the law. Few judicial bodies have been more deferential toward legislative judgments than this Court.
However, when the Legislature purports to exercise its legislative power to dictate a rule of interpretation to this Court, as some might read §§ 7121(2) and 1111(1) as doing, the Legislature exceeds its authority and impinges on the judicial power, which is the power to interpret the law and say what that law means. It is this Court's responsibility to exercise the judicial power and to give reasonable meaning to the law by examining its language, structure, organization, and purpose. I do not believe that the Legislature can impose any different rules of interpretation upon this Court. Although on occasions I
Concerning §§ 7121(2) and 1111(1) in particular, there is certainly no harm, and perhaps value, in our Legislature encouraging this Court to assess the decisions of foreign courts that have interpreted "keep or maintain." However, the limitation of such provisions is manifest in the following questions: Must this Court construe Michigan law to make it uniform with the laws of another state that have been misinterpreted? May this Court take into consideration dissimilarities between the law of Michigan and those of another state? How does this Court render "uniform" its interpretations if there are disagreements to this effect among the other states? Can "uniformity" or "consistency" in the interpretation of the law be practically achieved by the judiciaries of 50 sovereign jurisdictions?
If it is the Legislature's intent that the law be interpreted in a particular manner, the most reliable means of securing this result is for the Legislature to write the law in that manner. Although I do not doubt that an ancient law that has been given meaning over the centuries by courts of other jurisdictions can sometimes helpfully be referenced by the Legislature, in the final analysis, the constitutional rule must be that the Legislature either say clearly what it intends or else recognize that its less clearly stated intentions will be discerned through traditional methods of interpretation. A court cannot be obligated to say that the law states something other than what it states. This is no less true where a court of another jurisdiction has reached a contrary conclusion.
CORRIGAN, J. (concurring in part and dissenting in part).
I concur with the majority's ruling that MCL 333.7405(1)(d), which forbids a person from "keep[ing] or maintain[ing]" a vehicle that is used for keeping or selling controlled substances, does not require the prosecution to show that the defendant's actions occurred "continuously for an appreciable period," as stated in People v. Griffin, 235 Mich.App. 27, 32, 597 N.W.2d 176 (1999).
I part company with the majority because it has violated a cardinal rule of statutory construction. Fundamentally, the majority has disregarded the Legislature's choice of the disjunctive term "or" ("keep or maintain") and effectively substituted the conjunction "and" ("keep and maintain"). It has achieved this override of the Legislature's choice by defining the common terms "keep" and "maintain" as synonymous when they also have different and distinct dictionary definitions.
I also dissent from the majority's holding that "the statute precludes a conviction for an isolated incident without other evidence of continuity. . . ." Ante at 709. By requiring "evidence of continuity" to prove the crime, the majority has essentially adopted the Court of Appeals holding in Griffin that the prosecution must show that the defendant's actions occurred "continuously for an appreciable period." It has merely deleted the "appreciable period" component of the continuity requirement. In my view, the majority continues to give offenders a "free pass." Instead, I would hold that evidence of an isolated incident of using a vehicle for keeping or selling controlled substances is sufficient to give rise to criminal liability under the unambiguous language of the statute if the offender keeps the vehicle by retaining it in his possession or power.
The first step we take in determining the Legislature's intent is to examine the
The majority avoids the plain meaning of the text of the statute by declaring that the words "keep" and "maintain" are synonymous. The lay dictionary definition of "maintain" is "to keep in an existing state." Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1987), p. 718.
Under the above definition of "keep," the prosecution need only show that the defendant retained a drug vehicle in his possession or power. This could mean, for instance, that the defendant just began using the vehicle to keep drugs earlier that day. The focus should not be on how long the defendant kept drugs in the vehicle or sold the drugs from the vehicle; if a defendant uses a vehicle even one time for such a purpose, he has retained a drug vehicle in his possession, i.e., "kept" a drug vehicle. The focus should instead be on the degree of the defendant's control or use of the vehicle in connection with the storage or selling of drugs. See People v. Bartlett, 231 Mich.App. 139, 152, 585 N.W.2d 341 (1998) (a person may be deemed to keep or maintain a drug house if that person has the ability to exercise control or management over the house).
I further disagree with the majority's reliance on People v. Gastro, 75 Mich. 127, 42 N.W. 937 (1889), for the proposition that "keep or maintain" in MCL 333.7405(1)(d) requires more than an isolated incident. In Gastro, the defendant was convicted of unlawfully keeping a house of ill fame. In holding that a single act of prostitution will not always be sufficient to support a conviction under the statute, the Gastro Court did not even cite the statutory language, let alone engage in an analysis of the meaning of the word "keep."
The majority also relies heavily on other states' interpretations of their own similar statutes. By doing so, the majority is distracted from the text of our own statute and led astray by other states' interpretations of their own similar statutes. The majority defends its reliance on cases from other states by pointing to two provisions of the Public Health Code that require other provisions of the code to be construed to achieve uniformity and consistency with other states. MCL 333.7121(2);
Further, "[o]nly where the statutory language is ambiguous may a court properly go beyond the words of the statute to determine legislative intent." People v. Borchard-Ruhland, 460 Mich. 278, 284-285, 597 N.W.2d 1 (1999). If the language of the statute is unambiguous, this Court applies the statute as written, and judicial construction is neither necessary nor permitted. Id. at 284, 597 N.W.2d 1. MCL 333.7121(1) and MCL 333.1111(1) govern judicial construction of statutes in the Public Health Code, which is not permitted when the statute at issue is unambiguous.
In addition to failing to apply the plain language of the statute, the majority creates practical problems by giving defendants a "free pass" from conviction for
By holding that the prosecution must show "evidence of continuity," the majority largely reiterates the Court of Appeals holding in Griffin, supra at 32, 597 N.W.2d 176, that the prosecution must show that the defendant's actions occurred "continuously for an appreciable period" but without the "appreciable period" component. The Griffin standard similarly requires evidence of continuity, so how is the majority's standard meaningfully different?
Because evidence of an isolated incident of using a vehicle to keep or sell drugs is sufficient to support a conviction for keeping or maintaining a drug vehicle when the defendant retains the vehicle in his possession or power, and the prosecution clearly presented evidence that defendant kept the vehicle and used it for selling or keeping drugs, there was sufficient evidence to support defendant's conviction. I would vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate defendant's conviction for keeping or maintaining a drug vehicle under MCL 333.7405(1)(d).
ROBERT P. YOUNG, JR., J., agrees.
Further, MCL 333.7405(1)(d) is part of the Public Health Code and § 1111(1) of this code provides: "This code is intended to be consistent with applicable federal and state law and shall be construed, when necessary, to achieve that consistency." MCL 333.1111(1).
The interpretation that we adopt today is dependent on the language of the statute. We do not interpret MCL 333.7121(2) and MCL 333.7405(1)(d) as admonitions that we follow constructions placed on similar statutes in other jurisdictions if those rulings are inconsistent with the words used in our statutes.