People v. Lardie

Citation551 N.W.2d 656,452 Mich. 231
Decision Date09 July 1996
Docket Number102742,Nos. 8-9,Docket Nos. 101640,s. 8-9
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jash Eli LARDIE, Defendant-Appellant. PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Gerald Daniel HUDICK, Defendant-Appellant. Calendar
CourtSupreme Court of Michigan

Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, and Dennis LaBelle, Prosecuting Attorney, Traverse City, for the people in Lardie.

Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, John D. O'Hair, Prosecuting Attorney, and Timothy A. Baughman, Chief, Research, Training and Appeals, and Janice Joyce Bartee, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Detroit, for the people in Hudick.

Running, Wise, Wilson, Ford & Phillips, P.L.C. by J. Bruce Donaldson and Douglas J. Donaldson, Traverse City, for Lardie.

Barry A. Resnick and Darryl Fink, Farmington Hills, for Hudick.

Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, and Charles D. Hackney and Michael E. Moody, Assistant Attorneys General, Lansing, amicus curiae, for Prosecuting Attorneys Appellate Service.

Gregory E. Smith, Midland, amicus curiae, for Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Michigan.

Roger L. Conner, Robert Teir, and Timothy Burke, Washington, DC, amicus curiae, for American Alliance for Rights & Responsibilities.

RILEY, Justice.

In these cases, consolidated on appeal, we are asked to consider the constitutionality of a Michigan statute, M.C.L. § 257.625(4); M.S.A. § 9.2325(4), that creates a felony with a maximum punishment of fifteen years in prison for a person who drives while intoxicated 1 and, by the operation of the vehicle, causes the death of another. Under this statute, the people must prove that the driver had the general intent to drive while intoxicated and that this wrongful act, i.e., the intoxicated driving, must be the cause of the death. Because we conclude that this statute does not violate defendants' due process rights, we affirm the Court of Appeals decision in People v. Lardie, 207 Mich.App. 615, 621, 525 N.W.2d 504 (1994), concluding that the statute was constitutional, and affirm the Court of Appeals order in People v. Hudick, entered April 3, 1995 (Docket No. 176774), refusing to grant leave to defendant Hudick after the trial court approved the statute's constitutionality.

People v. Lardie

On May 22, 1993, defendant Lardie drank alcohol and smoked marijuana at a party at his parents' home. 2 Defendant was seventeen years old. He left his home at approximately 1:50 a.m. to give several people from the party a ride to one of their cars. From the physical evidence, defendant apparently drove the car off the paved road and traveled about 130 feet on the shoulder. The car hit a small tree and then, traveling another sixty or seventy feet, struck a larger one, killing the three passengers in the back seat, Jason Stutesman, Kendra Tiernan, and Erinn Tompkins. Lardie had an estimated blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent or greater at the time of the accident and tested positive for marijuana use. The medical expert testified that taking these two substances together creates a "synergistic type impairment," multiplying the impairment rather than just adding to what each would cause alone.

The people charged Lardie with three counts of causing death by operating a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. M.C.L. § 257.625(4); M.S.A. § 9.2325(4). He moved to dismiss the charges, claiming that the statute violated his right to due process because it did not require proof of either a mens rea or some form of negligence. The circuit court dismissed the counts against Lardie because it concluded that the statute was unconstitutional:

[H]olding the drunk driver accountable for incapacitating injury or death, without allowing the jury to examine his mental state, denies him basic due process, eliminates the jury as the arbiter of morally-culpable conduct, deprives the Court of facts necessary to fashion a proportional sentence, and erodes individual freedom. The record before this Court is insufficient to support such a draconian approach to this social problem created by drunk driving.

If OUIL Causing Death, a 15-year felony, is countenanced as consistent with due process requirements of the Michigan and United States Constitutions, then that determination The people appealed by right in the Court of Appeals. In an opinion per curiam, the Court of Appeals reversed because it concluded that the statute was constitutional. 3 In so concluding, the Court determined that the statute was not a codification of a common-law offense, but, rather, it characterized the statute as a "strict liability, public welfare offense" without an element requiring the people to prove mens rea. 4

must be made by an appellate court. This trial court sees neither a basis in law or principles of moral culpability, nor evidence of need for easier convictions that would justify holding a drunk driver accountable for a death without allowing the jury to evaluate his mental intent.

Defendant Lardie appealed the decision to this Court, which granted leave. The case was argued with Hudick. 5

People v. Hudick

On March 6, 1994, at approximately 1:30 a.m., on a rainy night, defendant Hudick was driving a truck in the right lane of a four-lane highway. William Wienclaw, a pedestrian, was intoxicated and was standing in the right lane in the dark when Hudick struck him with his vehicle and killed him. 6 Hudick was given a Breathalyzer test at 2:45 a.m., which showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.13 percent. Another driver, Christa Holbrook, testified at the preliminary examination that she was driving on the road at the same time and did not see Wienclaw until she was about sixty or seventy feet away from him. She said she was able to see him because a vehicle turned out of a truck station across the street, crossed in front of her, and shined its lights on him. She crossed into the other lane nearer the median. 7 Defendant was in the same lane as Holbrook when he hit Wienclaw. 8

The people charged Hudick with involuntary manslaughter with a motor vehicle and, under M.C.L. § 257.625(4); M.S.A. § 9.2325(4), with causing death by operating a vehicle while intoxicated. At the preliminary examination, defendant argued that the statute was unconstitutional, claiming that it denied him due process by eliminating the need for finding a mens rea. The district court rejected this argument, concluding that the statute was not unconstitutional, and bound him over for trial on these charges. Hudick again moved to dismiss the charges in the Detroit Recorder's Court, but the court denied the motion, and held the trial in abeyance pending the outcome of defendant's appeal.

Hudick applied for leave to appeal in the Court of Appeals. After holding the application in abeyance pending the outcome of Lardie, the Court denied the application on April 3, 1995. Hudick applied for leave to appeal in this Court, which granted leave to hear this case with Lardie. 9

I. Mens Rea of the Crime

The statute at issue, established by 1991 P.A. 98, provided at the time of these accidents in pertinent part:

A person, whether licensed or not, who operates a motor vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state, under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a controlled substance, or a combination of intoxicating liquor and a controlled substance, or with a blood alcohol content of 0.10% or more by weight of alcohol, and by the operation of that motor vehicle causes The same statute, under subsection 6, 11 made it a misdemeanor to drive while intoxicated, establishing a maximum penalty of imprisonment for ninety days or a fine between $100 and $500 for the first offense. Subsection 6 also provided for a one-year maximum sentence in prison and up to a $1,000 fine for a second violation within seven years, and for a five-year maximum sentence and $5,000 fine for a third violation if the two previous violations occurred within ten years.

the death of another person is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 15 years, or a fine of not less than $2,500.00 or more than $10,000.00, or both. [M.C.L. § 257.625(4); M.S.A. § 9.2325(4).][ 10

In order to determine whether a statute imposes strict liability or requires proof of a mens rea, that is, a guilty mind, this Court first examines the statute itself and seeks to determine the Legislature's intent. People v. Quinn, 440 Mich. 178, 185, 487 N.W.2d 194 (1992). In interpreting a statute in which the Legislature has not expressly included language indicating that fault is a necessary element of a crime, this Court must focus on whether the Legislature nevertheless intended to require some fault as a predicate to finding guilt. Id. In this statute, the Legislature did not expressly state that a defendant must have a criminal intent to commit this crime.

Criminal intent is ordinarily an element of a crime even where the crime is created by statute. People v. Rice, 161 Mich. 657, 664, 126 N.W. 981 (1910). Statutes that create strict liability for all of their elements are not favored. Quinn, supra at 187, 487 N.W.2d 194. Nevertheless, a state may decide under its police power that certain acts or omissions are to be punished irrespective of the actor's intent. Id. at 186-187, 487 N.W.2d 194; People v. Hatinger, 174 Mich. 333, 335, 140 N.W. 648 (1913). Many of the crimes that impose strict liability have been termed "public welfare regulation." Quinn, supra at 187, 487 N.W.2d 194; see also Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 255, 72 S.Ct. 240, 246, 96 L.Ed. 288 (1952) (public-welfare offenses). Chief Justice Thomas Cooley succinctly...

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