People v. Schaefer, Docket No. 126067

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Writing for the CourtYOUNG, J.
Citation473 Mich. 418,703 N.W.2d 774
PartiesPEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. David William SCHAEFER, Defendant-Appellee. People of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. James Richard Large, Defendant-Appellee.
Docket NumberDocket No. 1,Docket No. 127142. COA,Docket No. 2.,Docket No. 126067
Decision Date27 July 2005

Michael A. Cox, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, Kym L. Worthy, Prosecuting Attorney, and Timothy A. Baughman, Chief of Research, Training, and Appeals, Detroit, MI, for the people in Schaefer.

Henry C. Zavislak, Prosecuting Attorney, and Jerrold Schrotenboer, Chief Appellate Attorney, Jackson, MI, for the people in Large.

Richard Glanda, Detroit, MI, for David William Schaefer.

John P. Kobrin (Robert K. Gaecke, Jr., of counsel), Jackson, MI, for James Richard Large.


We granted leave to appeal in these cases and ordered that they be argued and submitted together to clarify the elements of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of liquor and causing death ("OUIL causing death"), MCL 257.625(4). In addressing this issue, we revisit our decision in People v. Lardie,1 which held, inter alia, that to convict a defendant of OUIL causing death, the prosecution must prove "that the defendant's intoxicated driving was a substantial cause of the victim's death."2

We conclude that the Lardie Court erred in holding that the defendant's "intoxicated driving"3 must be a substantial cause of the victim's death. The plain text of § 625(4) does not require that the prosecution prove the defendant's intoxicated state affected his or her operation of the motor vehicle. Indeed, § 625(4) requires no causal link at all between the defendant's intoxication and the victim's death. The statute requires that the defendant's operation of the motor vehicle, not the defendant's intoxicated manner of driving, must cause the victim's death. The defendant's status as "intoxicated" is a separate element of the offense of OUIL causing death. It specifies the class of persons subject to liability under § 625(4): intoxicated drivers.

Quite simply, by enacting § 625(4), the Legislature intended to punish "operating while intoxicated," not "operating in an intoxicated manner." Therefore, to the extent that Lardie held that the defendant's intoxicated driving must be a substantial cause of the victim's death, it is overruled.4

Accordingly, in People v. Schaefer, we vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the Court of Appeals to address defendant's remaining argument that the trial court erred so as to require reversal in making repeated references to defendant's stipulation as to his 0.16 blood-alcohol level during the jury instructions. In People v. Large, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the district court for reconsideration of whether to bind defendant over on the charge of OUIL causing death in light of the principles set forth in this opinion.


In January 2002, defendant was driving on Interstate-75 in the city of Lincoln Park with his friend as a passenger in the vehicle. Defendant admitted that he consumed three beers before getting behind the wheel.5 According to several eyewitnesses, defendant was tailgating various cars and driving erratically.

While on the freeway, defendant's passenger abruptly told him that they had reached their freeway exit. Defendant swerved to exit the freeway, hit the curb, and lost control of the car. The car rolled over, killing the passenger. Defendant stipulated at trial that he had a 0.16 blood-alcohol level almost three hours after the accident.6

Defendant was charged with OUIL causing death7 and manslaughter with a motor vehicle.8 At trial, a defense expert witness testified that the exit ramp was safe for speeds up to thirty miles per hour, but dangerous at any greater speed. He stated that he would have expected numerous accidents, including rollovers, during the thirty-six years that the ramp was in existence and that he was surprised to learn that there had been no other rollover accidents in over twenty years.

In instructing the jury, instead of reading the standard instruction for OUIL causing death, CJI2d 15.11,9 the trial court read the text of the OUIL causing death statute. When the jury asked for additional instructions during deliberations, the trial court said all it could do was tell them what the statute said. Thus, the court again read the statute to the jury. The jury convicted defendant of OUIL causing death and negligent homicide.10 Defendant was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of fifty months to fifteen years for OUIL causing death and one to two years for negligent homicide.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed defendant's negligent homicide conviction, but reversed his conviction of OUIL causing death.11 In a two-to-one decision, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in instructing the jury because it did not inform the jury that defendant's intoxicated driving must be a "substantial cause" of the victim's death, as required by Lardie.12 The dissent concluded that the trial court properly instructed the jury on the causation element of OUIL causing death by reading the statute to the jury. We granted the prosecutor's application for leave to appeal and ordered that this case be argued and submitted with People v. Large.13


In July 2003, while driving on a road in Jackson County, defendant struck and killed an eleven-year-old girl who was riding her bicycle in the late afternoon. The girl emerged onto the road after descending from an elevated driveway, the street view of which was partially obstructed by vegetation. The bicycle that she was riding did not have any brakes. Defendant was driving approximately five miles an hour over the posted speed limit of fifty-five miles per hour. Despite swerving in an attempt to avoid hitting the girl, the two collided. At the time of the accident, defendant had a 0.10 blood-alcohol level.

Defendant was charged with manslaughter with a motor vehicle,14 OUIL causing death,15 OUIL (second offense),16 and violation of license restrictions.17 At defendant's preliminary examination, the prosecution called a sheriff's deputy who testified as an expert witness in accident reconstruction. The deputy testified that the accident was unavoidable, opining that the collision still would have occurred had defendant been sober and driving the speed limit. According to the deputy, a sober driver would have required at least 1½ seconds to notice the girl and attempt to avoid hitting her. On the basis of his investigation, the deputy concluded that the girl emerged onto the road, and the impact occurred, all within less than one second.

The district court bound defendant over on all counts except OUIL causing death. On appeal to the circuit court, the court refused to reinstate the charge of OUIL causing death.18 The prosecution then appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the circuit court.19 Relying on Lardie, the Court of Appeals held that "[t]he prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to justify a finding that defendant's intoxicated driving was a substantial cause of the victim's death. . . ."20 In refusing to entertain the prosecutor's argument that Lardie was wrongly decided, the Court of Appeals stated that "[a] decision of the Supreme Court is binding upon this Court until the Supreme Court overrules itself. Therefore, we may not revisit the holding of Lardie."21 We granted the prosecutor's application for leave to appeal and ordered that this case be argued and submitted with People v. Schaefer.22


Statutory interpretation is a question of law that is reviewed by this Court de novo.23 Similarly, jury instructions that involve questions of law are also reviewed de novo.24 In reviewing a district court's decision to bind over a defendant, the lower court's determination regarding the sufficiency of the evidence is reviewed for an abuse of discretion, but the lower court's rulings based on questions of law are reviewed de novo.25

A. MCL 257.625(4)

Our Legislature first enacted the "OUIL causing death" statute as part of 1991 PA 98 in an attempt to increase the criminal penalties associated with driving while intoxicated.26 The Legislature evidently believed that sentences resulting from involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide convictions inadequately deterred intoxicated drivers from getting behind the wheel.27 Thus, to address this concern, the Legislature enacted the OUIL causing death statute, which provides more severe penalties, with the apparent expectation that these heightened penalties would deter intoxicated individuals from driving.

Our OUIL causing death statute, MCL 257.625(4), provides:

A person, whether licensed or not, who operates a motor vehicle in violation of subsection (1) [under the influence of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or a combination of alcoholic liquor and a controlled substance, or having an unlawful body alcohol content], (3) [visibly impaired by the consumption of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or a combination of alcoholic liquor and a controlled substance], or (8) [any body content of a schedule 1 controlled substance] and by the operation of that motor vehicle causes the death of another person is guilty of a crime as follows:
(a) . . . [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.28

In People v. Lardie, this Court was presented with a due process challenge to the OUIL causing death statute.29 The defendants in the two consolidated cases in Lardie alleged that § 625(4) imposed criminal liability without requiring a culpable mental state. In rejecting the...

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