People v. Adams

Decision Date27 June 1988
Docket Number77919,Docket Nos. 77862
Citation425 N.W.2d 437,430 Mich. 679
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Steven ADAMS, Defendant-Appellee. PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Joseph R. STITT, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Louis J. Caruso, Sol. Gen., Robert E. Weiss, Pros. Atty., Flint, Donald A. Kuebler, Chief, Appellate Div., for the People.

Barbara A. Menear, Flint, for Adams.

Brenda R. Williams, Flint, for Stitt.


BOYLE, Justice.

We are asked in these consolidated cases to decide whether a judge may consider, when imposing sentence, a conclusion that the defendant committed perjury while testifying. In People v. Adams, we are also asked to consider whether the defendant's appeal should be dismissed because he had escaped from prison during its pendency. The Court of Appeals in both cases ruled that the sentencing judge may not consider perjured testimony in sentencing. In People v. Spangler, 429 Mich. 29, 413 N.W.2d 1 (1987), five justices of this Court agreed that perjury may be considered by a sentencing judge. Because of our disposition of another issue, that view did not, in Spangler, constitute the law of the case. We now hold that a trial court may consider perjured testimony at sentencing. We reverse the decisions of the Court of Appeals.

I Facts
A. People v. Adams

During the evening of April 17, 1982, the home of Lester and Virginia Knorr was burglarized. The defendant was arrested and charged with breaking and entering an occupied dwelling with intent to commit larceny in violation of M.C.L. Sec. 750.110; M.S.A. Sec. 28.305. At trial, the defendant offered an alibi defense. He testified that on the evening of the break-in, he was home playing cards with his family and some friends. He further testified that, except for an eighteen-minute period between 7:55 p.m. and 8:13 p.m. when he went to buy cigarettes at a nearby gas station, he remained at his residence. This version of events was substantiated by the defendant's testifying witnesses.

The state offered the testimony of Gladys Blahovec. Mrs. Blahovec lived next to the Knorrs on Byrens Drive. She testified that a vehicle pulled into the victims' driveway at approximately 8:30 p.m. and stayed for fifteen minutes. She stated that she could not identify the vehicle as a car or truck, but that it did have one dim headlight. Her daughter, Betty Lavigueur, testified that some time between 8:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., as she turned into Byrens Drive, she saw a blue or green pickup truck with an off-color door leaving Byrens Drive at the intersection of Byrens and Lewis. The Knorr residence is approximately one-eighth of a mile from the Lewis intersection. The defendant owned a blue-green pickup truck with a partially white door on the driver's side and the truck had one dim headlight.

Samples of tire tracks taken from the victim's driveway were found to be similar to the tire treads on the defendant's truck. Also, boot prints taken were judged similar to the tread design on boots owned by the defendant. Finally, a toolbox taken from the victim's residence was found locked in a shed on the defendant's property.

The defendant was convicted on November 16, 1982, and sentenced by Genesee Circuit Judge Earl E. Borradaile to a term of five to fifteen years. At sentencing, Judge Borradaile commented that incarceration was fitting because the defendant had victimized his brother-in-law's friend and had lied during his trial testimony. These factors, the judge concluded, militated against the prospect of rehabilitation and, therefore, the option of probation.

The defendant thereafter filed a timely claim of appeal on February 9, 1983. During the pendency of that appeal, prior to the submission of briefs, the defendant escaped from the Southern Michigan Prison at Jackson. He remained on escapee status until his capture on January 11, 1984. Because of defendant's "unavailability," the Court of Appeals granted to defense counsel an extension of time in which to file her brief. As a result, there was a delay of nearly two months. While still a fugitive, the defendant's appeal proceeded to the Court of Appeals on briefs, oral argument not having been requested. By order of that Court dated January 30, 1984, the case was remanded to the trial court "for an explanation of the court's reasons in imposing this sentence." In compliance, the trial court reiterated its earlier determination that defendant was unfit for probation because he had betrayed a family friendship and "told a bald-faced lie in the courtroom."

In an unpublished per curiam opinion, 1 the Court of Appeals rejected the prosecutor's request that defendant's appeal be dismissed because he had escaped from prison. The Court reasoned that dismissal would amount to a double punishment 2 and further serve to deny defendant's right to appeal under art. 1, Sec. 20 of the Michigan Constitution. The Court also concluded that the trial court erred in considering the defendant's perjury in imposing sentence. People v. Anderson, 391 Mich. 419, 216 N.W.2d 780 (1974); People v. McConnell, 122 Mich.App. 208, 332 N.W.2d 408 (1982) vacated on other grounds 418 Mich. 881, 341 N.W.2d 433 (1983). Reasoning that a separate count of perjury was available if deemed appropriate, and that use of this criterion is improper under People v. Coles, 417 Mich. 523, 550, 339 N.W.2d 440 (1983), the Court remanded the case for resentencing, to be completed before a different judge.

The prosecutor appealed that ruling, and this Court granted leave. 425 Mich. 852 (1986).

B. People v. Stitt

The defendant was charged with larceny from a person in violation of M.C.L. Sec. 750.357; M.S.A. Sec. 28.589, resulting from a purse snatching outside of Mounir's Grocery Store in the City of Flint. The complaining witness, Sandra Fisher, testified that she saw the defendant standing alone outside Mounir's Grocery as she approached the door. While shopping, she saw the defendant inside the store, and he was seen again outside the store when Ms. Fisher left. She identified the defendant as the man who stole her purse in the parking lot as she prepared to enter her car. Ms. Fisher was also able to identify the defendant in a photo identification approximately two months after the theft.

The defendant testified that he was at Mounir's when Ms. Fisher's purse was stolen, but that he was inside the store playing video games, did not leave the store, and that one Val Rawls had taken the purse. He further testified that when asked by the police about the incident, he had informed Sergeant Richard Lewis of the Flint Police Department that Val Rawls had taken the purse. He also claimed to have accompanied Sergeant Lewis to a sewer drain where the purse was supposedly hidden.

In rebuttal, Sergeant Lewis testified that when he questioned the defendant he indicated no knowledge of a purse snatching. He indicated, further, that he had not been in the area of the crime for over one and one-half years, and that he did not know where Mounir's Market was located. Sergeant Lewis further testified that the defendant had never mentioned the name Val Rawls and that he did not conduct any type of field investigation with the defendant to locate the missing purse. 3

The defendant was convicted by a Genesee County jury and was sentenced to a term of six years, eight months to ten years. In imposing sentence, Judge Robert M. Ransom considered, among other factors, his belief that the defendant had lied during his trial testimony. After concluding that the trial judge had impermissibly enhanced defendant's sentence by weighing his perjured testimony, the Court of Appeals vacated defendant's sentence and remanded the case for resentencing, citing People v. McConnell, supra; Scott v. United States, 135 U.S.App.D.C. 377, 419 [430 Mich. 686] F.2d 264 (1969). 4 The state moved in the Court of Appeals for a rehearing, requesting that the defendant's sentence be reinstated. That request was denied.

The prosecutor appealed in this Court, and leave was granted. 425 Mich. 852 (1986).

II Perjury

The Legislature has determined that the appropriate approach to sentencing is the individualization of a sentence to a given offender. M.C.L. Sec. 769.8; M.S.A. Sec. 28.1080. To achieve this objective, a sentencing judge is afforded "wide discretion in the sources and types of evidence used to assist him in determining the kind and extent of punishment to be imposed within limits fixed by law." Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241, 246, 69 S.Ct. 1079, 1082, 93 L.Ed. 1337 (1949). "Highly relevant--if not essential--to his selection of an appropriate sentence is the possession of the fullest information possible concerning the defendant's life and characteristics." Id., p. 247, 69 S.Ct. p. 1083.

Recognizing, however, that sentencing discretion may be arbitrarily applied, this Court established certain criteria to aid the sentencing judge in determining an appropriate sentence. In People v. Snow, 386 Mich. 586, 592, 194 N.W.2d 314 (1972), we listed four basic considerations for sentence determination: "(a) the reformation of the offender, (b) protection of society, (c) the disciplining of the wrongdoer, and (d) the deterrence of others from committing like offenses." This list was intended to set out a framework for evaluation of the various facts and circumstances surrounding the yet-to-be-sentenced defendant. Just what facts properly may be weighed when considering reformation, protection of society, discipline, and deterrence, however, has never been rigidly classified, and we reject any invitation to do so. It remains the role of the sentencing judge to weigh facts deemed relevant to the sentencing decision. People v. Coles, supra, 417 Mich. at 550, 339 N.W.2d 440. Our function is to identify those factors which when injected into...

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