People v. Matelic, Docket No. 220221.

Citation641 N.W.2d 252,249 Mich. App. 1
Decision Date19 March 2002
Docket NumberDocket No. 220221.
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Stephan Mark MATELIC, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan (US)

641 N.W.2d 252
249 Mich.
App. 1

PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Stephan Mark MATELIC, Defendant-Appellant

Docket No. 220221.

Court of Appeals of Michigan.

Submitted March 14, 2001, at Detroit.

Decided December 21, 2001, at 9:00 a.m.

Released for Publication March 19, 2002.

641 N.W.2d 254
Jennifer M. Granholm, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, John D. O'Hair, Prosecuting Attorney, Timothy A. Baughman, Chief of Research, Training, and Appeals, and Don W. Atkins, Principal Attorney, Appeals, for the people

Mogill, Posner & Cohen (by Kenneth M. Mogill), Detroit, for the defendant.

Before: GAGE, P.J., and MARK J. CAVANAGH and WILDER, JJ.

641 N.W.2d 253

Defendant appeals by leave granted the trial court's order denying his motion for earlier parole consideration. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.


Following an October 1987 jury trial, defendant was convicted of possession with intent to deliver 650 or more grams of a mixture containing cocaine, M.C.L. § 333.7401(2)(a)(i), and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, M.C.L. § 750.227b. On November 3, 1987, the trial court sentenced defendant to a mandatory term of life imprisonment for the possession with intent to deliver conviction and a consecutive two-year term for the felony-firearm conviction. This Court later affirmed defendant's convictions, People v. Matelic, unpublished opinion per curiam of the Court of Appeals, issued September 8, 1989 (Docket No. 105679), and the Supreme Court denied defendant's application for leave to appeal, People v. Matelic, 440 Mich. 910, 491 N.W.2d 814 (1992), and motion for rehearing, People v. Matelic, 441 Mich. 894, 495 N.W.2d 386 (1992).

In 1987 when defendant committed the crime and was convicted, M.C.L. § 333.7401(2)(a)(i) provided that an individual found guilty of possessing with the intent to deliver any mixture containing cocaine that weighed 650 grams or greater would receive a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. Furthermore, at the time of defendant's conviction and sentence the parole eligibility statute precluded any possibility of parole for the individual sentenced to a mandatory life term "for a major controlled substance offense." Formerly M.C.L. § 791.234(4), currently M.C.L. § 791.234(6). These unyielding sentences reflected the Legislature's attempt to stem Michigan-related trafficking in controlled substances and to diminish the prevalent and deleterious consequences that such trafficking in, abuse of, and addiction to controlled substances imposed on society. People v. Bullock, 440 Mich. 15, 55, 66, 485 N.W.2d 866 (Riley, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), at 73, 485 N.W.2d 866 (Boyle, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); 440

641 N.W.2d 255
Mich. 15, 485 N.W.2d 866 (1992); People v. Gorgon, 121 Mich.App. 203, 206-207, 328 N.W.2d 619 (1982)

In 1998, the Legislature revisited the question of mandatory life imprisonment for traffickers in mixtures of controlled substances in amounts weighing 650 grams or more. The Legislature passed two bills that mitigated somewhat the "drug lifer" law. 1998 PA 319 amended M.C.L. § 333.7401(2)(a)(i) to remove this subsection's mandatory life imprisonment language, instead authorizing punishment "for life or any term of years but not less than 20 years." 1998 PA 314 amended M.C.L. § 791.234(6) by deleting the subsection's explicit exclusion of violators of M.C.L. § 333.7401(2)(a)(i) from parole consideration and by specifically providing for parole eligibility for such an offender after twenty years' imprisonment if the offender "has another conviction for a serious crime," or after 17-½ years' imprisonment if the offender "does not have another conviction for a serious crime."1 1998 PA 314 also created M.C.L. § 791.234(10),2 which permits an offender convicted under M.C.L. § 333.7401(2)(a)(i) who was sentenced to life imprisonment earlier parole eligibility, 2-½ years earlier than the periods set forth in M.C.L. § 791.234(6), when the sentencing court or its successor finds that the offender "has cooperated with law enforcement."

Seeking to avail himself of the Legislature's newly fashioned parole eligibility provisions, defendant through his counsel sent the Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney a January 19, 1999, letter expressing defendant's "willingness to `cooperate with law enforcement' by meeting "with any designated representative of [the prosecutor's] office for the purpose of providing... such assistance as you may request." No representative of the prosecutor's office ever arranged to interview defendant, because it was believed that after twelve years' imprisonment it was unlikely that defendant possessed any useful information regarding the 1987 events surrounding defendant's conviction.

In February 1999, defendant filed a motion seeking to have the trial judge that sentenced him make a determination regarding defendant's willingness to cooperate with the authorities. Defendant reasoned that according to the clear language of M.C.L. § 791.234(10), the determining factor with respect to cooperation constituted the willingness of a prisoner serving a life sentence for selling a controlled substance to speak with law enforcement personnel, "not whether that openness and willingness to talk to law enforcement leads to any results." Defendant further clarified that he remained willing to cooperate with the police, the prosecutor's office, or the trial court.

641 N.W.2d 256
The prosecutor replied that defendant should have offered some information at the time of his 1987 conviction and that defendant's 1999 letter represented a disingenuous attempt to qualify for earlier parole eligibility. The prosecutor suggested that the Legislature contemplated that a defendant's cooperation would involve the defendant's disclosure of other drug contacts "who, presumably, have not yet been charged or who are unknown to law enforcement." The prosecutor also asserted that the retroactive parole eligibility provisions within M.C.L. § 791.234(6) and (10) mitigated defendant's sentence and therefore unconstitutionally infringed the Governor's commutation power.

Defendant responded that no language within M.C.L. § 791.234(10) supported the prosecutor's proffered interpretation that any offer of cooperation must occur temporally near a defendant's arrest. Defendant proposed to the contrary that in light of the explicit retroactive application of the statute and the expressed lack of concern regarding the relevance of the information offered by the cooperating defendant, the statute clearly applied to any defendant who expresses a willingness to advise law enforcement personnel of "whatever he or she knows" "regardless of the age, relevance or usefulness of the information offered." With respect to the prosecutor's constitutional challenge to the early parole scheme, defendant argued that the prosecutor lacked standing to set forth an alleged violation of the Governor's commutation power. Defendant urged that the Legislature's enactment of parole eligibility provisions did not constitute a modification of the underlying life sentences. Defendant lastly argued that even if the parole eligibility provisions infringed somewhat the Governor's commutation power, this minor interference remained constitutional because the Legislature acted pursuant to its own constitutional police power to alleviate the unduly harsh penalty imposed on an entire class of prisoners.

The trial court denied defendant's motion for earlier parole consideration because it did not agree that he had cooperated as the statute intended. The court reasoned as follows:

This present offer is distinguishable from the statutory requirement which states "... that the prisoner ... has cooperated with law enforcement." MCL 7[9]1.234(9) ... Emphasis added. Prior to the amendment of the law, there was no record to support any cooperation by the defendant in this matter. The court is not convinced that an offer to cooperate twelve years subsequent to a conviction satisfies the statutory requirement.

The court did not address in its ruling the constitutionality of the parole eligibility provisions.


Defendant first contends that the trial court erred in finding his January 1999 offer to meet with a representative of the prosecutor's office insufficient cooperation to qualify him for earlier parole under M.C.L. § 791.234(10). We review de novo legal questions involving statutory interpretation. People v. Webb, 458 Mich. 265, 274, 580 N.W.2d 884 (1998).


Well-established principles guide our statutory construction.

In [construing statutes], our purpose is to discern and give effect to the Legislature's intent. We begin by examining the plain language of the statute; where that language is unambiguous, we presume that the Legislature intended the meaning clearly expressed— no further judicial construction is required or permitted,

641 N.W.2d 257
and the statute must be enforced as written. We must give the words of a statute their plain and ordinary meaning, and only where the statutory language is ambiguous may we look outside the statute to ascertain the Legislature's intent. [People v. Morey, 461 Mich. 325, 329 330, 603 N.W.2d 250 (1999) (citations omitted).]

In determining the plain meaning of statutory language, "`[t]he fair and natural import of the terms employed, in view of the subject matter of the law, is what should govern,' ... and as far as possible, effect must be given to every word, phrase, and clause in the statute." Id. at 330, 603 N.W.2d 250, quoting People ex rel. Twitchell v. Blodgett, 13 Mich. 127, 168 (1865) (Cooley, J.).

The disputed statutory subsection that creates the possibility of earlier parole in the event that the life-sentenced defendant cooperates provides as follows:

If the sentencing judge, or his or her successor in office, determines on the record...

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