People v. Carines

Decision Date27 July 1999
Docket NumberDocket No. 110218, Calendar No. 3.
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Mario Estuardo CARINES, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Jennifer M. Granholm, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, William A. Forsyth, Prosecuting Attorney, Timothy K. McMorrow, Chief Appellate Attorney, and Vicki L. Seidl, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Grand Rapids, for the people.

State Appellate Defender (by Desiree M. Ferguson), Detroit, for the defendant.

Elwood Brown, President, John D. O'Hair, Prosecuting Attorney, and Timothy A. Baughman, Chief, Research, Training and Appeals, Detroit, for Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

Opinion

CORRIGAN, J.

We granted leave to determine 1) whether the prosecution presented sufficient evidence to support defendant's convictions of armed robbery, M.C.L. § 750.529; M.S.A. § 28.797, and first-degree felony murder, M.C.L. § 750.316(1)(b); M.S.A. § 28.548(1)(b), and 2) whether the trial court committed error requiring reversal when it instructed the jury regarding the elements of aiding and abetting felony murder.

First, we hold that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence to prove armed robbery and felony murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Next, we extend the plain error rule of People v. Grant, 445 Mich. 535, 520 N.W.2d 123 (1994), to claims of unpreserved, constitutional error. Although the court's failure to properly instruct on aiding and abetting felony murder was plain error, defendant has not established prejudice. Moreover, the error did not seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. Accordingly, we affirm the unpublished opinion of the Court of Appeals, which affirmed defendant's convictions and sentence.1

I. Underlying Facts and Procedural History

Defendant was tried before a Kent County jury for the robbery and murder of Thomas Eugene Gober in a downtown Grand Rapids parking garage. While taking trash to a dumpster outside a restaurant, prosecution witness James Warren heard a commotion coming from the parking structure across the street. He saw two people on the second story involved in a struggle. One man, subsequently identified as codefendant Victor Escobar, wore a brown or green sweater.2 He was holding a third person whom Warren could not see. When Warren yelled, the men ran.

Warren then observed three people run from the parking structure, among them Escobar and defendant. Defendant wore a black jacket with red markings. The hood was pulled over his head.3 Latisha Washington, an employee of the parking garage, likewise saw the three men run from the structure. She confirmed that one man had been wearing a black hooded jacket with red markings.

Warren then went to the second floor of the parking structure where he found Gober lying on the floor with his throat cut. Blood had pooled around Gober's head. An autopsy revealed that Gober died from a single stab wound to the neck that severed his carotid artery.

Warren immediately called 911. Officer Mike Woronko responded. Within minutes after the crime was discovered, Woronko, armed with a description of the suspects, stopped defendant and Escobar less than half a mile from the crime scene. Defendant was wearing his jacket inside out with the hood tucked inside the collar. Warren and Washington later identified defendant by his distinctive jacket.

The right arm and cuff area and the left and right pocket of defendant's jacket were bloodstained. The blood did not match defendant's or Escobar's blood type, but was consistent with Gober's blood type. The record established that less than one percent of the population shares the characteristics of Gober's blood. The police also found blood on Escobar's clothes, but that blood matched Escobar's blood type, not that of defendant or Gober. The police found a small amount of blood on Escobar's hands. The sample was too small to be identified. The police did recover a watch inscribed with Gober's name from Escobar.

Defendant testified in his own defense, but refused to answer any questions. Instead, he made a nonresponsive, unsupported assertion that the police had planted the blood on his jacket. Accordingly, the trial court instructed the jury to disregard defendant's testimony.

Following the presentation of proofs and closing arguments, the trial court instructed the jury on felony murder without objection:

The first thing which the prosecution must prove is that the victim, Mr. Gober, was killed during an armed robbery by one of the robbers. The prosecution does not have to prove that Mr. Carines, himself, killed him or participated in the killing. To prove this element the prosecution need prove only that one of the robbers killed Mr. Gober. [Emphasis added.]

The court further instructed the jury that defendant must have participated in the robbery during which Gober was killed, and that defendant must have possessed the requisite mental state, i.e., malice. The court further stated:

Just because a defendant participated in a robbery during which someone was killed does not itself prove [felony murder]. However, in many circumstances committed [sic] a robbery, particularly one involving violence and/or the use of a weapon, can indicate an intention to kill, an intention to cause great bodily harm, or the knowing creation of a very high risk of death or great bodily harm, knowing that death or such harm was the likely result of his actions. You may infer that a defendant had the necessary intent from evidence that the defendant set in motion, a force, likely to cause death or great bodily harm.... If none of the participants intended for anyone to get killed or hurt and there was no good reason to anticipate given how things were planned and/or how they were carried out, that anyone would get killed or hurt, then any death which occurred during the course of the robbery is not a Felony Murder. If given the circumstances of planning and committing the robbery there was no good reason for participants other than the killer to anticipate a killing or a serious injury, those other participants are not guilty of a Felony Murder.

The jury found defendant guilty of armed robbery and felony murder. The trial court imposed the mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole.4

The Court of Appeals affirmed defendant's convictions and sentence in an unpublished opinion. The Court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to prove armed robbery and felony murder. Further, because defendant failed to preserve his claim that the trial court had not properly instructed the jury on the elements of felony murder, the Court reviewed the instructional issue for a miscarriage of justice. The Court noted that the trial court appeared to have "blended an aiding and abetting element into the felony murder instructions without giving a separate instruction on aiding and abetting felony murder," and failed to instruct the jury on the second element of aiding and abetting, i.e., that defendant must have performed acts or given aid or encouragement that assisted in the crime. The Court concluded, however, that "the jury apparently found defendant guilty as the principal in the felony murder" because "the evidence at trial supported the theory that defendant was the individual who stabbed the victim." Thus, the Court of Appeals determined, "the aiding and abetting instructions for felony murder did not affect the jury's verdict."

We granted defendant's application for leave to appeal to consider the question of sufficiency of the evidence and the claim of instructional error. 459 Mich. 892, 587 N.W.2d 503 (1998).

II. Sufficiency of the Evidence
A. Standard of Review

Defendant initially contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his armed robbery and felony murder convictions. People v. Wolfe, 440 Mich. 508, 515, 489 N.W.2d 748 (1992), articulates the standard for reviewing sufficiency claims:

[W]hen determining whether sufficient evidence has been presented to sustain a conviction, a court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution and determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found that the essential elements of the crime were proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences arising from that evidence can constitute satisfactory proof of the elements of a crime." People v. Allen, 201 Mich.App. 98, 100, 505 N.W.2d 869 (1993).

B. Armed Robbery

The prosecution presented sufficient evidence to prove defendant's armed robbery conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. "The elements of armed robbery are: (1) an assault, (2) a felonious taking of property from the victim's presence or person, (3) while the defendant is armed with a weapon described in the statute." People v. Turner, 213 Mich.App. 558, 569, 540 N.W.2d 728 (1995). The prosecution here relied, in part, on an aiding and abetting theory.

"Aiding and abetting" describes all forms of assistance rendered to the perpetrator of a crime and comprehends all words or deeds that might support, encourage, or incite the commission of a crime.... To support a finding that a defendant aided and abetted a crime, the prosecutor must show that (1) the crime charged was committed by the defendant or some other person, (2) the defendant performed acts or gave encouragement that assisted the commission of the crime, and (3) the defendant intended the commission of the crime or had knowledge that the principal intended its commission at the time he gave aid and encouragement. An aider and abettor's state of mind may be inferred from all the facts and circumstances. Factors that may be considered include a close association between the defendant and the principal, the defendant's participation in the planning or execution of the crime, and evidence of flight after the
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