528 N.W.2d 176 (Mich. 1995), 97269, People v. Fields

Docket Nº:Docket No. 97269.
Citation:528 N.W.2d 176, 448 Mich. 58
Opinion Judge:OPINION BRICKLEY, Chief Justice.
Party Name:PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Warren Perry FIELDS, Defendant-Appellant.
Attorney:[448 Mich. 61] Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Thomas L. Casey, Sol. Gen., Richard Thompson, Pros. Atty., Oakland County, Joyce F. Todd, Chief, Appellate Div. by Robert C. Williams, Asst. Pros. Atty., Pontiac, for plaintiff-appellee. Stuart L. Young, Young and Kaluzny, Bingham Farms, for defendant-a...
Judge Panel:WEAVER, J., took no part in the decision of this case.
Case Date:March 07, 1995
Court:Supreme Court of Michigan

Page 176

528 N.W.2d 176 (Mich. 1995)

448 Mich. 58

PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Warren Perry FIELDS, Defendant-Appellant.

Docket No. 97269.

Calendar No. 13.

Supreme Court of Michigan.

March 7, 1995

Argued Nov. 3, 1994.

Page 177

[448 Mich. 61] Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Thomas L. Casey, Sol. Gen., Richard Thompson, Pros. Atty., Oakland County, Joyce F. Todd, Chief, Appellate Div. by Robert C. Williams, Asst. Pros. Atty., Pontiac, for plaintiff-appellee.

Stuart L. Young, Young and Kaluzny, Bingham Farms, for defendant-appellant.


BRICKLEY, Chief Justice.

In this case we are called upon to decide what constitute substantial and compelling reasons under M.C.L. § 333.7401(4); M.S.A. § 14.15(7401)(4) [448 Mich. 62] to deviate from the minimum sentences imposed by the Legislature. We decide that only those factors that are objective and verifiable may be used to judge whether substantial and compelling reasons exist, and thereby uphold the basic tenents of the test announced by the Court of Appeals in People v. Windall Hill, 192 Mich.App. 102, 480 N.W.2d 913 (1991). The trial court in this case used both objective and subjective factors to determine that a deviation from the ten-year minimum sentence was appropriate. Consequently, we vacate the sentence imposed and remand to the trial court for the determination whether, in considering only those factors that are objective and verifiable, there are substantial and compelling reasons to sentence this defendant to a term of years below the statutory minimum.


The defendant, Warren Perry Fields, pleaded guilty of one count of possession with intent to deliver more than 50 but less than 225 grams of cocaine. M.C.L. § 333.7401(2)(a)(iii); M.S.A. § 14.15(7401)(2)(a)(iii). The Legislature has prescribed a minimum sentence of ten years in prison for this crime. It also, however, has empowered courts to depart from some of the minimum sentence prescriptions under certain circumstances. M.C.L. § 333.7401(4); M.S.A. § 14.15(7401)(4) provides:

The court may depart from the minimum term of imprisonment authorized under subsection (2)(ii), (iii), or (iv) if the court finds on the record that there are substantial and compelling reasons to do so.

After accepting the defendant's plea, the court heard arguments on a request by the defense that [448 Mich. 63] the judge depart below the statutorily imposed minimum sentence. After listening to statements from both sides on the issue, the judge applied People v. Troncoso, 187 Mich.App. 567, 468 N.W.2d 287 (1991), and decided to depart from the statutory minimum. The judge summarized his reasons for departure as follows:

I'm satisfied that the basis for my deviating from the mandatory 10-year is that you're a young man of 24 years of age and you have no prior record. I'm also satisfied--standing alone obviously wouldn't matter but you just were over the 50 gram mark, the 54 grams. 1 This appears to be, based upon the record, your only involvement that can be established.

You had a good job for over five years with a good work record, and I'm taking into consideration the extreme remorse that I see from you. You are devastated by this. You've admitted your guilt, and you've accepted your responsibility.

You've got family[,] friends and co-workers, as evidenced by the letters, indicate you do--are a person capable of rehabilitation. I think you have a potential for rehabilitation, and I'm satisfied that your motivation to help others, although totally in some respects outbalanced, at least it indicates that you're not a cold, callous drug dealer out to profit solely for your own benefit.

The judge then deviated from the ten-year minimum, sentencing the defendant to a prison term of five to twenty years. The plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeals remanded for resentencing, citing Windall Hill, supra, which had been decided as the

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appeal was pending. The defendant then appealed to this Court.

[448 Mich. 64] II


In 1978, the Legislature considered a bill to change the penalties imposed on controlled substance offenders. The legislative history of the bill indicates that it was intended to combat an increase in drug-related crime. The House Legislative Analysis stated:

Some persons claim that the state has failed to stem drug traffic because the penalties for drug dealing are not severe enough, and law enforcement tools are inadequate. They contend that the potential for profit in drug dealing is so great that Michigan's present penalties pose little or no deterrent to would-be violators, with lenient probation and parole policies weakening the threat of imprisonment still further. [House Legislative Analysis, HB 4190, Third Analysis, May 17, 1978.]

The Legislative Analysis summarizes arguments advanced by both supporters and opponents of the bill. One argument advanced in support of the bill was summarized,

The severe penalties imposed by the bill would have an important deterrent effect on illicit drug dealing. With the present drug penalties and parole possibilities, dealers feel that if caught they will spend little or no time in prison. The risk to them seems relatively small, and the potential for profit great. Consequently, only more severe penalties and the certainty of punishment will serve to deter would be violators. [Id.]

In order to combat this problem, the Legislature decided to impose harsh minimum sentences for drug dealers. The law went into effect September 30, 1978.

[448 Mich. 65] Ten years later, the Legislature passed several amendments to the original statute, reducing the minimum sentences imposed. These amendments also included the addition of § 7401(4), which allowed a trial judge to deviate from minimum sentences set out in the statute if there were substantial and compelling reasons to do so. According to the Senate Fiscal Agency, the bill's supporters argued that

by allowing judges to depart from the minimum terms, and reducing the minimum for larger quantities, the bill would moderate what has been an uncompromising law and would give judges greater flexibility in making sentencing decisions based on the individual circumstances of a case. [Senate Analysis, SB 598, 600, 603, 610, Third Analysis, August 29, 1988.]

The House Legislative Analysis added,

The bill would make for a law that was strict without unduly interfering with judicial discretion. [House Legislative Analysis, SB 277, First Analysis, December 16, 1987.]

In 1989, the Legislature amended the law again, in order to return the minimum sentences for larger quantities to their original, longer lengths. 1989 P.A. 143. Section 7401(4) was left unchanged.


The words "substantial and compelling" caused almost immediate conflict in the lower courts. In People v. Downey, 183 Mich.App. 405, 454 N.W.2d 235 (1990), the Court of Appeals panel analyzed several sentences that deviated from the statutory minimum. The panel concluded that judicial discretion[448 Mich. 66] under the statute was "very limited," and set strict standards for what kinds of reasons could be considered substantial and compelling. Central to those standards was the requirement that only objective factors capable of verification could be used to justify departure from the statutory minimum. The Court also held that only factors that existed before the defendant was arrested could be considered objective. Id. at 415-416, 454 N.W.2d 235.

In People v. Krause, 185 Mich.App. 353, 460 N.W.2d 900 (1990), the Court of Appeals affirmed the "objective and verifiable" requirement set forth in Downey. The Court defined objective and verifiable factors as those "actions or occurrences which are external to the minds of the judge, defendant and others involved in making the decision ... [that are] capable of being confirmed." Krause at 358, 460 N.W.2d 900. The Court

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in Krause also modified the Downey test, by allowing trial judges to use both prearrest and postarrest factors. It warned, however, that postarrest factors should be used with caution because of the risk that defendants will create postarrest events to influence the sentencing judge. Krause, supra at 358-359, 460 N.W.2d 900.

Judge Griffin dissented in Krause, arguing that as long as the factors used to deviate from the statutory minimum were substantial and compelling, it should not matter whether they were objective and verifiable. He noted that neither the statute, the relevant legislative history, nor the common meaning of the words substantial and compelling even hinted at a subjective/objective dichotomy, and accused the Court in Downey of creating hurdles not intended by the Legislature. Id. at 363-365, 460 N.W.2d 900.

Judge Griffin later used his dissenting opinion in Krause as the basis for his majority opinion in Troncoso, supra. Troncoso created a split in the [448 Mich. 67] case law, which was resolved by Windall Hill, supra. 2 In Windall Hill, the Court upheld the standard enunciated in Krause. Judge Griffin wrote a strong dissenting opinion, again restating his arguments in Troncoso.



Statutes should be interpreted according to the common and approved usage of any undefined words within them. M.C.L. § 8.3a; M.S.A. § 2.212(1). Webster's New World Dictionary Third College Edition defines "substantial," in relevant part, as, "2 real; actual; true; not imaginary 3 strong; solid; firm; stout 4 considerable; ample; large 5 of considerable worth or value; important...." It defines "compelling," in relevant part, as, "irresistibly or keenly interesting, attractive, etc.; captivating...."

From these definitions it is evident that the words "substantial and compelling" constitute...

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